January 4, 2022
Quick Guide to Rest & Meal Break Laws for ME, MA & NH Employers

Believe it or not, federal law does not require employers to give employees meal breaks or short breaks during the workday. It may seem only fair and natural to allow workers a break to eat and rest in order to keep up their energy and productivity, but the federal government has left this labor law area up to the states.

Since states mandate their rest and meal break laws, you must know your local regulations. Many states require employers to provide meal breaks, and some even require short rest breaks. Below, we’ve outlined the basics for Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire employers.

Maine Meal Break Law

Maine employers must provide employees with a 30-minute break after 6 consecutive hours worked. This break may be paid or unpaid.

Exceptions can be made: 

  • In cases of emergency
  • When the nature of the employee’s work allows them frequent breaks during the workday

Who is covered?

All Maine employers with three or more employees working at a time must follow this law. However, it is not applicable if a collective bargaining or other written employer-employee agreement provides other meal arrangements.

Massachusetts Meal Break Law

Like Maine, Massachusetts employees have a right to a 30-minute meal break for every 6 consecutive hours worked. This break can be paid or unpaid.

According to the Massachusetts government, the meal break is the employee’s free time. They must be free of all duties, free to leave the workplace, and allowed to pray or perform other activities during their break.

Who is covered?

The meal break requirement applies to most Massachusetts employers, excluding:

  • Ironworks
  • Glassworks
  • Printworks
  • Paper mills
  • Letterpress establishments
  • Bleaching or dyeing works

The state attorney general may grant an exemption for a business that requires continuous operation, as long as this does not compromise worker safety.

New Hampshire Meal Break Law

New Hampshire employees who work 5 consecutive hours are entitled to a 30-minute meal break unless the employee can eat while working and the employer allows them to do so. Meal breaks may be paid or unpaid.

Who is covered?

All New Hampshire employers must provide a 30-minute meal break.

Additional Rest Break Information

Below are two areas all three states have in common.

Can employees skip their meal breaks?

Yes, an employee may waive their right to a rest break. It’s best to have both the employee and employer sign off on this. 

When you allow an employee to work through their break, the time must be included as hours worked. For example, a customer service representative who has to cover phones during her break or a repair technician who eats lunch while driving from one job to the next must be paid for that time.

As the employer, you may require employees to take their 30-minute rest break.

What about shorter breaks?

Shorter rest breaks are not required but may be provided to employees at the employer’s discretion. Short breaks or pauses in performing duties ranging from five to 20 minutes are considered part of the workday and must be paid.

Be sure to keep up with your state’s mandates on areas like rest and meal breaks. Labor laws often change, so employers should regularly review their practices and policies to ensure compliance.

If you have a question about rest break laws in your area or need help developing a rest and meal break policy, our human resource experts will be happy to help! Contact BlueLion today at 603-818-4131 or info@bluelionllc.com to tell us about your needs. 

The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.