Workplace breaks in New York are governed by New York State Labor Law §162. Pursuant to that statutory section, every person employed at or in connection with a factory must be given a sixty (60) minute (i.e. one hour) break for the noon day meal. Employees employed in connection with a mercantile (i.e. a store) or other establishment or other occupation must be given a 30 minute (half-hour) lunch break.
The above-referenced breaks must be taken between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. In addition, every employee employed for a shift starting before 11:00 a.m. and continuing after 7:00 p.m. must be given an additional 20 minute break between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Every employee employed for six or more hours starting between 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. must be given at least a sixty (60) minute (i.e. one hour) break when employed at or in connection with a factory, and a forty-five (45) minute break if employed at a retail store or otherwise. This break should be at a midpoint between the beginning and the end of the shift.
These breaks are not compensable – that is, they are unpaid breaks. However, you must allow your employees to actually take these breaks. Many times, especially with office workers, employers make employees take their lunch breaks sitting at their desks, so that they can answer the phone, take light dictation, etc. If you do this, you might end up having to pay for this time (which, when added to an employee’s regular hours, may bring the employee’s weekly hours to over 40 hours per week, and thus payable as overtime).
Finally, under New York State Labor Law §205, an employee may not take any food into a room where there is lead, arsenic, noxious fumes, or harmful dust or gas as a result of the work being carried out in that area. In addition, no employee should remain in such a room during the time allowed for meals. In such an instance, the employer has to provide a suitable place in the establishment in which the employees may eat.