Nurse Lunch Breaks and Rest Breaks

Under federal law, no employer is required to provide rest breaks or meal breaks for his or her employees regardless of the nature of the work performed or the duration of the shift. However, some states are more affable with respect to labor and employment issues and provide workers, including nurses, with the requisite meal and rest breaks necessary to maintain an efficient and error-free work environment.

Under various state lunch and rest break laws, employers may provide nurses with a reasonable paid break for every so many hours of work- generally around four hours. Therefore, in a typical eight-hour shift, a nurse could be given two ten-minute paid breaks. Employers cannot dock a nurse’s pay for taking a break and cannot force him or her to waive rights to a rest break. Research has drawn a strong correlation between regular rest breaks and fewer nursing errors- a correlation that can literally invoke life or death consequences.

Some state laws require an employer to provide a reasonable meal break after five hours of work. The meal break may be paid or unpaid depending on state requirements or whether the nurse is completely relieved of her duties. If the nurse is required to stay “on call” or to be available in a crisis situation, the break should be paid as the nurse is not technically on a break. Some states require a minimum number of meal breaks depending on the length of the shift- a provision which comes in handy for nurses working long, 12-hour shifts.

Failure to provide proper breaks may result in a nurses' class action for breaks.

Federal law provides the minimum standard with which all employers must comply and, unfortunately, the law does not mandate meal or rest breaks for any nurse. As such, many states do not statutorily require an employer to provide a nurse with break times, although many employers do provide breaks in an effort to reduce workplace stress and fatigue.

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