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What Illinois Employers Should Understand About the Fuzzy World of Breaks and Meal Periods

October 2012

By: Nancy E. Joerg, Esq.

At the outset, we start with this fact. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Illinois wage and hour law do not require that an employee receive a break or rest period.

Illinois wage and hour law does however require employers to provide unpaid meal periods. Under Illinois' One Day Rest in Seven Act, an employee who is to work 7 ½ continuous hours or more must be given an unpaid meal period of at least 20 minutes. The meal period must be given to an employee no later than the end of the fifth hour. The required meal period can be given anytime in the five hour period.

However, the Fair Labor Standards Act (federal law) indicates that a meal period must be 30 minutes or longer and the employee must be completely free of work duties for it not to be compensable. Thus, to be safe in Illinois, in order to be unpaid, an employee should be relieved of his/her duties while taking a meal or rest period of no less than 30 minutes. Meal periods should not be interrupted by any work, even answering phones.

Breaks are not required at all in Illinois. However, if an Illinois employer chooses to provide a break period, they must be counted as hours worked and compensated if they last 20 minutes or shorter. Therefore, coffee breaks, smoke breaks, and other short breaks must be compensated by Illinois employers.

Questions? Call Attorney Nancy E. Joerg of Wessels Sherman's St. Charles, Illinois office: 630-377-1554 or email her at najoerg@wesselssherman.com.