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Q&A: FLSA and Breaks

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This Q&A is provided to address some common questions HR Services consultants receive about breaks.

Although the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require employers to provide meal or rest breaks, these breaks are customary in most organizations and may be covered by other state laws or local policies. Breaks for nursing mothers are required under the FLSA and may also be required under state law.

Q: Are lunch breaks required? What if an employee requests to work through lunch?

A: Texas Education Code (TEC) Section § 21.405(a) entitles teachers and librarians to at least a 30-minute lunch period free from all duties and responsibilities connected with the instruction and supervision of students. More information on the regulatory requirements and HR’s responsibility can be found in the HRX article Duty-free Lunch Entitlement.

For all other staff, meal breaks are not required by the FLSA, but they are customary. Supervisors can work with non-instructional individuals on a case-by-case basis. If employees need to occasionally work through lunch to complete their workday earlier and the employer agrees to such an arrangement, they can come to this agreement. However, there is no requirement that employers grant this flexibility.

For a break to be noncompensable, a nonexempt employee must be fully relieved of work duties for a period of at least 20 minutes. There are some school district employees who may never be fully relieved of duties for long enough for the break to be noncompensable. For example, a teacher assistant may be required to supervise students while eating lunch, or a campus administrative assistant may be required to answer phones or greet visitors while eating lunch. For employees who are not fully relieved of duties, all time would be compensated.

Q: Are employees entitled to rest breaks? Should they be paid?

A: Many employees believe they’re guaranteed two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch period every workday. This is not required by FLSA or state law, but most employers allow staff to take reasonable breaks that are not disruptive and still allow the needs of the organization to be met. If a rest period or break is less than 20 minutes long, the break time should be compensated.

A: Breaks for nonexempt nursing mothers are noncompensable as long as the employee is completely relieved from duty. If the employer provides paid breaks and an employee uses their break time to pump breast milk, she must be compensated in the same way that other employees are compensated for break time. More information is available in the HRX article Breaks for Expression of Breast Milk.

Q: How long should breaks for nursing mothers be?

A: Statute does not define “reasonable” break time. The burden of determining how much time is reasonable would be on the employer. HR and the supervisor should work with each employee to assess their needs.

Additional Resources

TASB HR Services offers several resources related to the FLSA.

Training opportunities include:

Other helpful resources include:

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TASB HR Services supports HR leadership in Texas schools through membership offerings in specialized training, consulting, and other services.

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