Though employee meal and restroom breaks are required by law, it is state law, and not federal law, which governs the parameters. For a look at each state’s specific regulations, see: http://www.dol.gov/esa/whd/state/meal.htm
The laws in Minnesota state that an employee is entitled to “sufficient” time to eat a meal. However, the term “sufficient” is not defined, creating much debate. There are some who believe that an employee gets an un-paid 30-minute meal break if he or she works a continuous eight-hour shift. However, this is a popular misconception. A shorter amount of time may be deemed adequate “under special conditions.” In this case, an employer must be able to prove that extenuating circumstances require a shorter break (See Frank v. Gold'n Plump Poultry, Inc., 2007 WL 2780504, 9 D.Minn. 2007). Most legal experts recommend that an employer allow his or her employees a full 30 minutes. However, this time may be spent “off the clock,” only if the employee is completely relieved of his or her duty. If he or she is expected to continue working while eating, then he or she must be paid for the time.
Each employee is entitled to an “adequate” period of time for a restroom break for every four hours worked. If this break is 20 minutes or less, then the employee must be allowed to remain on the clock. Violation of this statute is a misdemeanor offense, which can be prosecuted by the Minnesota Department of Labor.
Damages for Violation
A federal court recently ruled that an employer’s failure to provide meal or restroom breaks does not constitute a damages claim on the part of the employees for either federal or state law. However, if an employee reports a violation of these statutes, or any other, and is terminated or subject to retaliation, then the employer may be forced to pay a fine between $700 and $3,000. Also, an employer who does comply with the restroom break law may be prosecuted if he or she does not pay the employees for break times of 20 minutes or less (See Braun v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2003 WL 22990114, 13 Minn. Dist. Ct. 2003). In such cases, an employee can recover legal fees, and penalties, as well as his or her unpaid wages.