Laws on Employee Lunch Breaks in the State of Massachusetts

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Massachusetts meal breaks can be unpaid, provided the employee is free to leave the workplace.
Massachusetts meal breaks can be unpaid, provided the employee is free to leave the workplace. (Image: mtcurado/iStock/Getty Images)

Massachusetts state law requires most employers to provide meal breaks for employees working six hours or more. The Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General has civil and criminal authority to enforce the state's labor laws, including all workers' right to a meal break.

Required Meal Breaks

If an employee in Massachusetts works a shift of six hours or longer, her employer must allow her a 30-minute unpaid break to eat a meal. During her break she must be relieved of all duties. Her break is her time, and she must be allowed to leave the workplace and do whatever she wants.

Employees may waive their right to a meal break by continuing to work through their break time. However, if an employee spends her designated break time performing work-related duties, her employer must pay her for this time and cannot deduct it from her paycheck. Likewise, if an employer requests that an employee remain at the workplace during her break, the break must be paid even if she does no work during that time, because the employee wasn't free to leave.

Exempted Occupations

Certain industries don't have to provide unpaid breaks to employees. Exemptions apply to certain factories or mechanical occupations where the continuous nature of running machines or processes makes it impossible for a worker to leave his station. State law specifically exempts workplaces such as paper mills, iron works, and printing works, and grants the state attorney general authority to declare other operations exempt from the requirement.

Shorter Rest Breaks

Some employers provide brief paid breaks for employees working shorter shifts, and such breaks may be provided for in employment contracts or collective bargaining agreements. However, these breaks are not required by state law. Massachusetts does not require any break for shifts less than six hours in length.

Penalties for Violations

When a Massachusetts employer denies a lunch break to an employee legally entitled to one, the employee can file a complaint with the state attorney general. If the attorney general's office finds in the employee's favor, it can fine the employer between $300 and $600 for each violation.

Employers that receive a citation from the attorney general for violation of the meal breaks law have 21 days to pay the fines assessed. If they disagree with the findings of the attorney general's office, they have 10 days to file an appeal with the Division of Administrative Law Appeals.

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