Employer Insights

Washington Break Laws - The Complete Guide for 2024

by Lori Brown, on Jul 3, 2024 5:29:41 PM

In Washington State, employers must ensure that their employees are receiving the breaks that are due under Washington Break Laws. Here is the information that Washington State employers need to know regarding Washington State Employee Break Laws.

Washington State Break Laws Overview

Under Washington Labor Laws, employees have the right to take rest breaks and meal breaks depending on the amount of time they work in a given period or shift..

Employers should also be aware of certain exceptions, alternative options, and special rules regarding certain groups of workers.

Washington Rest Breaks

Under Washington employee break Laws, employees are entitled to a paid rest break of at least 10 minutes for every 4 hours that they work.

During these breaks, employees must be free from duties. Rest breaks are also to be considered “hours worked’ when paid sick leave and overtime are being calculated.

Employers may also require employees taking rest breaks to stay on the job during their designated break periods.

NOTE: Employers are also required to give a break of ten minutes or more for every two hours worked to employed minors ages 14 and 15. There are also some special considerations for agricultural workers.

Mini-Rest Break Exception

In some cases, employers may implement “mini” rest breaks instead of a scheduled rest break. These types of breaks must total at least 10 minutes over a 4-hour period in order for the exception to apply.

Washington Meal Break Law

Employees working more than 5 hours in a shift are entitled to a 30-minute unpaid meal break. Unpaid meal breaks are not considered “hours worked.”

A 30-minute paid meal break shall be given if a worker is:

  • Required to remain on duty during their meal period
  • Called back to work during their break
  • Required to remain on-call on the premises or work site in the interest of the employer, even if they are not called back to duty

Regardless of whether the break is paid or unpaid, the employee is entitled to 30 total minutes of mealtime, excluding interruptions. If the meal break is paid, the entire break must be paid and considered “hours worked” when calculating paid sick leave and overtime.

Employees may be entitled to more than one meal break if certain requirements are met.

Break Scheduling Requirements

Employers should be aware of the following requirements when scheduling breaks for employees:

  • Breaks must be scheduled as close to the midpoint of a given work period, or shift, when possible
  • Employees may not be required to work more than three hours straight without being given a rest break, meaning that if an employee works a four-hour shift they are entitled to one break, which must be given after the third hour of work at the latest
  • Meal breaks must begin between the second and fifth hour of an employee’s work period or shift

Can an Employee Refuse to Take a Break?

Employees may waive their meal break requirement, however, both the employee and the employer must agree. Employees cannot waive rest breaks.

Restroom Breaks

Under Washington Break Laws, employers are forbidden from restricting access or use of restroom facilities to certain time schedules.

Special Requirements for Healthcare Employees

In regards to certain healthcare employees, rest breaks are to be scheduled and uninterrupted. In certain emergency circumstances, however, rest breaks may be interrupted if a situation arises that could result in an adverse effect on a patient.

When a rest break is interrupted, an additional 10 minutes of uninterrupted break time is to be given to the employee as early as possible.

Any rest periods or meal breaks that are missed by an employee must be kept on record by the employer.

Express Milk Breaks

Most nursing employees are entitled to a reasonable break time and a private place, other than a restroom, shielded from view to express breast milk in the workplace in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Covered employees are allowed to take time reasonable to express breast milk without denial from an employer.

Covered employees are allowed such a break for one year after the child’s birth.

In accordance with the FLSA, an employee using break time at work to express breast milk may either:

  • Be completely relieved of duty while on the clock; or
  • Be compensated for the given break time

Employers with fewer than 50 employees are not subject to comply with express milk break requirements if the provisions needed would impose an undue hardship on the employer's business.

Managing Employee Breaks in Washington

In Washington State, there are many laws and requirements regarding employee breaks and meal periods that businesses must comply with. With the proper workforce management solutions in place, businesses can stay compliant with the current employee break laws.

With the proper Scheduling and Human Resource solutions, businesses can ensure their employees are receiving their required breaks.

Washington State employers seeking help regarding managing employee breaks and meal periods should contact a Washington HR Company today. Or, contact us to get connected with a provider.

New call-to-action

Guest Author: Lori Brown

Lori B-modifiedLori Brown, CEO of PayNW a leading Washington payroll and HR services company, took the reins in September 2021 from founder Mike Anderson. Growing PayNW from $500K to $8M in annual revenue, Lori has maintained a 96% client retention rate, year over year. She is a talented leader, with extensive experience in payroll, Human Capital Management, Employee Retention Credit (ERC) efforts, and more. Lori was elected to the board of the Independent Payroll Providers Association in 2021 and is a Puget Sound Business Journal 40 Under 40 honoree. She is a mom of three and has been happily married for the past 20 years.

Topics:Washington Labor Laws

View All Insights

About The Employer Insights Blog

The employer insights blog is where you can stay up-to-date with all the latest developments you need to be aware of as an employer, so you can focus on the business of your business. 

Subscribe To Other Updates Like This

Get More Employer Alerts Like This
Right To Your Inbox