If you employ a small staff or if your business faces extremely busy periods, it may be impossible to provide your employees with meal or rest breaks without derailing your business operations. These practices probably won’t earn you goodwill from your employees, but you may be legally entitled to make workers skip breaks, depending on a variety of factors.

Federal Labor Law

The Fair Labor Standards Act provides the framework for the majority of federal labor laws, and it places no requirements on employers to provide breaks of any sort. Because of this, you can require all adult workers to work shifts of any length without receiving a meal or rest break without violating the FLSA. However, if you provide rest breaks, you must compensate employees for time spent on breaks if the break is less than 20 minutes. For longer breaks, you can require workers to clock out.

State Laws on Meal Breaks

Merely avoiding a FLSA violation doesn’t guarantee that your scheduling practices are legal. State labor laws requires that employers provide unpaid meal breaks in 21 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. While the specifics of these laws vary, many require that employees who work more than six consecutive hours receive a 30-minute unpaid meal break.

State Laws on Rest Breaks

Although many states require employers to grant workers unpaid lunch breaks, fewer states’ labor laws require that workers receive rest breaks -- often known as coffee breaks -- during their shifts. Only eight states require employers to provide rest breaks: California, Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. As with state laws that mandate meal breaks, laws that require paid rest breaks vary, although typically they require workers to receive a 10- or 15-minute break for every two-hour shift worked.

Underage Workers

While the FLSA doesn’t place any restrictions on how you schedule your adult staff, it limits scheduling for some minors. While the FLSA doesn’t require break periods for 14- and 15-year-old workers, it limits the amount of time they may work in a 24-hour period. During the school year, a 14- or 15-year-old may only work three hours on a school day or eight hours on a nonschool day. The FLSA doesn’t require breaks for minors during the shortened shifts.