Spurred by this question and my own experience.

A previous employer of mine required non-exempt workers (like me) to take a 30 minute unpaid lunch break each day. Because the office location wasn't near much of anything, most people ended up either eating at their desks and twiddling thumbs, or just working through lunch while snacking away.

As someone who keeps a busy schedule outside of work, I found this pretty annoying. I'd much rather take my 30 minutes at the end of the day to leave early so I can actually do something, rather than have 30 unpaid minutes of sitting around an office.

This seems to fit at least two of the four "hallmarks" of waiting time from this answer.:

  • is not engaged in the work for which they were hired
  • is not able to effectively use the time for themselves

However, this FLSA fact sheet says:

Bona fide meal periods (typically 30 minutes or more) generally need not be compensated as work time. The employee must be completely relieved from duty for the purpose of eating regular meals. The employee is not relieved if he/she is required to perform any duties, whether active or inactive, while eating.

Obviously, those who work through lunch are required to be compensated. Is there any insight into the intent of the FLSA, and why it exempts meal breaks from waiting hours?

Or are there exceptions to the meal break rule for when the 30 minutes cannot be reasonably construed to relieve the employee of their duty?

  • 3
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is asking why the law is - that’s a political question, not a legal one.
    – Dale M
    Aug 20, 2019 at 22:54
  • @DaleM I don't read it that way. I don't think it's asking what the motivation is for constructing the FLSA as it is but what other components of the FLSA make this rule make sense in the context of the rest of the FLSA. That is a legal question. If someone asked "Why can companies deduct expenses but I can't deduct the value of my labor on my income tax", you could understand that as asking what political reason produced that result, but I think it's much more likely that they want an explanation why this apparent unfairness makes logical sense given the other rules (if it does). Aug 22, 2019 at 5:00
  • I agree with David Schwartz - Leave open
    – A. K.
    Aug 22, 2019 at 19:22
  • If an employee "end[s] up... working through lunch while snacking away", that is not the same as being "required to perform any duties... while eating". Feb 18, 2021 at 21:56

1 Answer 1


It's not waiting time because the employer is required to give a lunch that is at least 30 minutes long and employees are not supposed to be working during this lunch. Keep in mind a fact sheet is not statute and just because it says typically doesn't mean it is not required. Typically the lunch can be waived by mutual consent but there have been issues with employers pressuring employees to work through lunch or take shorter lunches thus most laws side with protecting employees. Thus most employers will enforce a strict 30 minute lunch to avoid issues with labor authorities and I have heard of cases where the employer required employees toy sign waivers everyday the employee wanted to take a short or working lunch. That said if you do work through lunch yes you should be paid, but without an agreement you should not be working through lunch.

Employment law varies by state with some adding more protections than others but given California is one of the most pro employee states I think their fact sheet may be helpful.

Sorry for a rushed answer I am worried the question may get closed - will edit later.

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