In Maine, an employee may not be required to work more than six consecutive hours without a rest break of at least 30 minutes.  26 M.R.S.A. §601.  The break time does not have to be paid time; an employee may be required to “punch out” for his break.  The break is typically used as lunch or other mealtime.  It is common for employers to give shorter breaks during the day, which must be paid if given, but an employer is not required to provide paid breaks.

An employee needs to be able to rest and eat without work interruption.  This is particularly important if the rest time is not paid time, as Maine wage and hour laws for hourly-paid employees might deem rest time as “compensable” time, if the employee is not completely relieved from her duties.

There are of course several exceptions to the rule.  A collective bargaining agreement (union contract) or other written employment agreement may contain provisions that allow for a different break or mealtime arrangement.  There is also a small business exception in the Maine statute.  The rule does not apply to any place of employment where there are fewer than three employees on duty at a time.  An exception exists for emergency situations “in which there is danger to property, life, public safety or public health.”  The law also carves out an exemption for employers if “the nature of the work done by the employees allows them frequent breaks during their work day.”  If an employee is free to rest, eat, use facilities, etc., during the course of their shift, they may not necessarily wish to also “punch out” for an unpaid 30 minute break, and the law does not require it.

The Maine Department of Labor enforces the rest break law.  The Department can be reached for guidance on the rest break and other Maine employment laws.