Meals and Breaks

Meals and Breaks


  1. The normal working day is considered to be eight hours of work.
  2. Meal periods must be a minimum of 30 minutes.
  3. Meal periods are not considered to be part of work when employees are completely relieved from duties and allowed to leave the premises; employers do not pay for these meal periods.
  4. Rest breaks are a relief from duty; they should be a minimum of 10 minutes and are paid for by the employer.
  5. Meal periods and rest breaks are separate requirements; they are not interchangeable and cannot be combined. Depending on where the rest breaks and meal periods are placed within the work shift, the two could occur back to back, thus combining the two, however, this is fact specific.



  1. Employees 16 years and older, working up to (but not more than) 5 hours, need not be given a meal period.
  2. Employees 16 years and older working over five hours must be allowed a 30 minute meal period for each five hours of time worked. The meal should be taken no earlier than two hours and no later than five hours from the beginning of the shift.
  3. When an employee is required to stay on the work premises or remain on duty for the convenience of the employer, the employer must pay for the meal period (i.e. the meal period is on the employer’s time). Duties performed during this time are not considered part of the meal period.
  4. OVERTIME: Employees working three or more hours longer than a normal working day (11 hours or more) must be given a second meal period of 30 minutes, either prior to or during the overtime period. The second meal period must be given within five hours from the end of the last meal period.



  1. Employees 16 years and older should be allowed a rest break of at least 10 minutes for each four hours of time worked. Rest breaks should ideally be scheduled at the midpoint of the work shift. No employee shall be required to work more than three hours without a rest period.
  2. If the nature of the work allows employees to take intermittent rest breaks of at least 10 minutes during the four hour shift, rest breaks are not required to be scheduled. For example, when restaurant employees routinely work during a slow shift such as mid-afternoon, scheduled rest breaks are not required.


*Requirements for 14 and 15 year-olds differ


For more information on meals and breaks for adult workers, visit Wages/HoursBreaks/Breaks/default.asp.

If you have any further questions about this topic or others, see the Department of Labor & Industries’ Help for Small Business page at


Rev. 12/31/17


This article is an excerpt from the Handbook for Excellent Restaurant Operations (HERO), published by the Washington Hospitality Association.  Want a hard copy of the whole manual?  It’s one of the many benefits of becoming a member!  Find out more about joining the Washington Hospitality Association here.

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Categories: HERO