Question:  We have several hourly employees who work eight hours per day.  Currently they take a one-hour meal period after working four hours.  The employees would prefer to take a 30- minute meal period and leave 30 minutes earlier.  Is this permitted?

Answer:  While you might have another reason for your employees to take a one-hour meal period, their preference for a shorter meal period would be legally compliant as long as the meal period begins before the end of the fifth hour of work (4 hours and 59 minutes), is at least 30 minutes in length, and is duty-free.  The meal period in/out times must be recorded on the employee’s time record.

Of course, the shorter meal period may result in the employees working over eight hours in the day and subsequent overtime.

By the way, our answer is different if the employees requested to forego a meal period entirely and leave early in exchange.  That is not permitted when the employee works over 6 hours in the day.

It is important to note that the paid 10-minute rest breaks may not be used to allow employees to arrive 10 minutes late or leave 10 minutes early and may not be combined with meal periods.