Q: My employer gives us a 40 minute lunch break once per day. He deducts 40 minutes from our total number of hours worked for the day. We don’t get coffee breaks like I did in my last company. I live and work in Massachusetts. Is this even legal?
A: In Massachusetts, most employers are required to provide a 30-minute meal break to employees who work more than six hours in a single workday. This meal break does not have to be paid. Providing two 15-minute breaks is not considered the equivalent of a single 30-minute break. The meal break has to be 30 minutes or more. Many employers offer a lunch hour but that is not a legal requirement in Massachusetts. There are some industries that are exempt from this law (iron, glass, print, etc.). The attorney general can also grant waivers for some workplaces that would exempt the employer from requiring a 30-minute lunch break. Usually this would occur within a factory or an assembly plant. These waivers are rare.
An employer can allow an employee to work through this meal break if the employee chooses to do so and the employer agrees to this arrangement. During an employee’s lunch break, the employee should be permitted to leave the work location and also be relieved of all work responsibilities.
Massachusetts does not require employers to offer rest breaks other than the 30- minute lunch break described above. There are a handful of states that require rest breaks but Massachusetts is not one of them. There is no federal law which requires an employer to provide rest breaks. An employer can offer employees additional rest breaks during the day but I find this is to be a rarity now. Some bargaining agreements may require breaks during the work day.
It sounds like your employer is in compliance with the required lunch break law in Massachusetts. Employers can be liable for breaking this law. In Massachusetts, an employer can be fined from $300 to $600 per violation. If an employer is found liable, the employer also may face other financial costs like mandatory treble damages, the expenses involved in litigation as well as attorney’s fees. This law is enforced by the attorney general’s office. More information is available from the attorney general’s office. Attached is information related to workplace rights. http://www.mass.gov/Cago/docs/Workplace/wagehourbrochure_final.pdf