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My employer is not giving me meal or rest breaks; what can I do?

In order to pay to live in New York, it is necessary to work. This does not mean you are a slave to your job or your employer. Depending on the length of your shift, you have the right to take meal and, possibly, rest breaks. What can you do if your employer is not offering these to you?

If your employer is not honoring meal and rest breaks, you may file a complaint with the Department of Labor. You may take further action by pursuing legal claims against your employer in an effort to seek compensation for your losses.

New York meal and break requirements

Every state has labor laws. Buried in them is a list of meal and break period requirements by which employers have to abide. In New York, meal and rest breaks are under Labor Law Section 162, which covers all public and private sector employees. It breaks rest periods down for three types of employment: factory workers, non-factory workers and all workers. Current laws state that:

  • Factory workers should receive a 60-minute meal break for every shift lasting longer than six hours. That meal break is to come midway through the shift.
  • Non-factory workers should receive a 30-minute lunch break given between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. for those working six or more hours during that time period. Employees should receive a 45-minute meal break for shifts lasting more than six hours and that start anywhere between 1 p.m. and 6 a.m.
  • All workers should receive an additional 20-minute break if their shift starts before 11 a.m. and ends after 7 p.m.

Confused? It is somewhat confusing, and to top it off, employers have the right to seek modifications to these guidelines for a number of special circumstances. For example, if only one employee is on duty, he or she cannot leave his or her post for a meal break -- meaning the meal break is to be while still on the job. This is the one-employee shift exception. The catch here is the employee must consent to this type of arrangement.

Can I file a complaint?

If you believe your employer is breaking the law by failing to give you the meal and break periods allotted you under the law, it is okay to speak up. An experienced employment law attorney can review the details of your case, investigate the situation and look into any modifications possibly granted your employer in order to determine if you have a case to file a complaint. If you do, you can receive further assistance in seeking compensation for your losses.

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