Massachusetts law states that no person shall be required to work for more than six hours during a day without an interval of at least thirty minutes for a meal. MGL c. 149 s. 100. The Attorney General’s office has clarified that the 30 minute meal break period can be either paid or unpaid at the discretion of the employer. This law applies to most businesses and industries, with the exception of certain specialized industries such as glass works, iron works, paper mills, print works, and dyeing works. MGLA c. 149 s. 101.
If an employer offers an unpaid 30 minute meal break period, employees cannot be required to perform any job functions during the break and must be free to leave the premises during the break. If the employee has to work during the break, or is restricted from leaving the premises, the employee must be paid for the break period. A recent decision from the Massachusetts Superior Court noted that an employer cannot deduct time from an employee’s paycheck for a meal break unless the employee is “relieved of all work duties” during the break. In that case, the employer had been deducting meal break time from employee paychecks, despite the fact that the employees (a group of security officers) were required to remain on call (and in uniform) during their meal breaks. The Superior Court held that the employees were not “relieved of all duties” during those breaks and, as a result, the employer time deductions were a violation of Massachusetts law.