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How Do New Jersey Employment Laws Address Paid Meal Breaks for Workers?

New Jersey’s wage and hour laws protect workers’ rights to earn a minimum wage and receive overtime compensation. While these are perhaps the most well-known rights under state law, New Jersey protects other rights regarding workers’ compensation. New Jersey does not require employers to provide most workers with breaks for meals or rest, except for paid meal breaks for employees under the age of eighteen. Other workers could be entitled to pay during their meal breaks if their employer requires them to remain at work during that time.

When “Hours Worked” May Include Meal Breaks

A state regulation requires employers to include “[a]ll the time the employee is required to be at his or her place of work or on duty” in the computation of how many hours that employee has worked. If employees are free to take a meal break anywhere they want, that time is likely to be unpaid. An employer that requires employees to remain at their desks or workstations during meal breaks, however, might be required to pay them for that time.

New Jersey courts have noted that the regulation does not define “place of work.” In an unpublished decision from June 2020, a New Jersey federal court considered whether mandatory security screenings at the end of the workday should count as paid time under New Jersey law. The court applied a two-part test to determine whether a location counts as a “place of work”: (1) the employer controls or mandates activity in that area, and (2) the activity mainly benefits the employer. It ruled that the security screenings satisfied the test. In another ruling in the same case, issued in 2021, the court ruled that mandatory COVID tests administered at the beginning of the workday might also satisfy the “place of work” test.

The court’s analysis is relevant to the question of paid meal breaks. It might not be enough that an employer does not allow employees to leave the premises during meal breaks for whatever reason. Employees who are taking a meal break in a break room are not necessarily performing activities that primarily benefit the employer. If an employer requires employees to eat meals while they are working, or to remain “on call” during designated meal periods, an employee could have a claim for pay during that time.

Paid Breaks for Minors

New Jersey sets strict, unambiguous limits on the employment of minors, meaning anyone under the age of eighteen. State law does not allow the employment of anyone under the age of fourteen, and it only allows minors between fourteen and sixteen years of age to work in limited circumstances. It restricts the number of days and hours in a week that a minor may work.

Once an employed minor has worked for five continuous hours, their employer must provide them with a thirty-minute paid meal break. A period of work is “continuous” unless the minor has had a break of at least thirty minutes. For example, if a minor employee works for three hours, takes a ten-minute break, and then works another two hours, state law would view that as a continuous five hours of work.

The Resnick Law Group’s employment lawyers represent workers in New Jersey and New York in claims for wage and hour violations under federal and state law. Please contact us today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.

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