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Washington Break Laws: Don’t Get Caught Off Guard

Explore the peculiarities of break laws in the state of Washington.
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As an employer in the state of Washington, you must be fully versed in the state’s break laws.

Unlike federal law, which is mostly silent on breaks for employees, break laws in the state of Washington mandate meal and rest breaks, setting a higher standard for employee rights and welfare. 

Today, we will explore the peculiarities of  break laws in Washington and the requirements it sets for employers. By understanding your obligations, you can ensure legal compliance and foster a more productive and positive work environment. 

We will also tackle how time and break tracking tools, such as Timeero, can be vital to aligning your business practices with these legal requirements. Besides simplifying compliance, it also helps you improve overall workplace efficiency.

Understanding Washington Break Laws

In the US, federal guidelines do not require employers to offer their employees shorter breaks or meal times. However, many employers understand the benefits of breaks for productivity and satisfaction and choose to provide them anyway. 

In the state of Washington, however, employee breaks are not optional. State laws mandate employers to give their workers both meal and rest breaks, making Washington one of the few states with employee-friendly labor laws, along with California and Colorado.

Even though the Washington break law does not explicitly mention the requirement for employers to keep track of meal and rest breaks, it’s generally a good practice for Washington employers to keep accurate records of all hours worked, including any breaks. 

timeero time clock mobile
Timeero lets you track employees’ time, breaks, mileage, and locations.

If you’re running a business in the state of Washington, a reliable time and break tracking tool, such as Timeero, can help you ensure compliance with labor laws. And you will always have proper records and documentation in case of any disputes and audits.

So, what are the break requirements in Washington?

Let’s see what the Washington Administrative Code says about this matter.


Rest Breaks

Under the Washington law, or WAC 296-126-092, to be more specific, every employee is entitled to a paid rest period. 

This means that for every 4 hours of work, an employee should receive a minimum of a 10-minute rest break. Rest breaks should be uninterrupted

The timing of these breaks is essential. They should be scheduled so no employee works more than three hours without a break, ideally placed around the midpoint of the work period

During the rest period, an employer is not mandated to let the employees leave their work site. However, for the 10-minute rest break to be considered compliant, they must relieve the employees of all work duties.

These rest periods are considered “hours worked,” impacting the calculation of paid sick leave and overtime rate of pay. 

In specific job roles, there is the option of intermittent rest periods equivalent duration to the required standard.  

If the nature of the work allows employees to take short breaks throughout the day that add up to 10 minutes per 4 hours of work, then the employer does not need to provide specific scheduled rest periods. 

This can apply to jobs that naturally include downtime or self-paced working conditions. 

For example, office workers can take short breaks while waiting for a meeting to start, during slow periods, or while waiting for a task to complete (like a large file download). Graphic designers often have the flexibility to take short breaks while waiting for their designs to render or brainstorming ideas.

However, the intermittent rest periods should be in addition to the regular meal breaks and not disrupt the meal breaks. 

Meal Breaks 

When it comes to meal periods, the Washington law is very clear. 

Employees who work more than five consecutive hours in a workday are entitled to a 30-minute meal period. This break should ideally start between the second and fifth hour of the shift.

This break must be uninterrupted to be considered an unpaid meal period. If, because of the nature of the work, an employee must remain on duty, on-call, or is called back to work during their meal period, this time must be compensated. 

So, if any work is performed during these 30-minute meal breaks, they are to be considered “hours worked,” which is essential for calculating overtime pay and sick leave.

Furthermore, employees whose working time exceeds their scheduled shift for more than 3 hours must be provided with additional meal periods.

Following the Revised Code of Washington, meal period requirements for construction trade employees may be replaced by collective bargaining agreements that specifically require meal periods and define requirements.

Can Employees Waive Their Breaks in the State of Washington?

Employees can waive their meal break requirement if both they and their employer agree. 

Meal break waivers must be “knowing and voluntary, “meaning the employee must fully understand and willingly agree to waive their meal break. 

While employees in the state of Washington may waive their meal breaks, 10-minute rest period requirements cannot be waived.

Washington break laws for minors are different from those governing adult employees. According to these regulations, minor employees can not waive their meal and rest breaks.

What Is the Penalty for Not Taking a Break in the State of Washington?

The enforcement of Washington labor laws, including those related to meal and paid rest breaks, falls under the jurisdiction of the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. 

If employees suspect they are not receiving the mandated breaks, they have the right to file a complaint with this agency. 

Upon receiving a complaint, the Department of Labor and Industries opens up an investigation. 

If the agency determines that the employer is violating the employment law, the employer will be mandated to provide the necessary breaks to the employee and compensate them for any unpaid wages. 

In the case of non-compliance, employers may also face civil penalties of up to $5,000 for each violation. This fine can be even higher if the employer has a history of similar offenses. The exact penalty amount is at the discretion of the Labor and Industries program director. It depends on factors such as the employer’s record of previous violations and other relevant circumstances.

Furthermore, employees who face retaliation from their employer for reporting violations of the Washington meal and rest break laws can file a retaliation complaint. 

If the employer is found guilty of such retaliation, they may be ordered to compensate the employee for lost wages and other damages.

How to Stay Compliant with Washington Break Laws?

So, non-compliance with break laws in the state of Washington can cost you quite a lot of money in back wages and penalties. 

Just recently, a class action was filed against Motel 6 in Washington, alleging the hotel operators failed to provide proper meal and rest breaks or compensation for missed breaks to its hourly-paid, non-exempt employees.

The plaintiff, a former Motel 6 front desk representative, claims that understaffing and busyness forced her to work through breaks. The lawsuit argues that Motel 6 lacked policies for breaks, failed to pay for missed breaks, and willfully deprived employees of entitled compensation.

Such cases seriously threaten any business, as they can drag on for years and cost money, time, and reputation. The consequences of losing can be devastating.

Here are the steps you can take to stay compliant.

Establish an Employee Breaks Policy

Creating a solid employee breaks policy is one of the first steps towards compliance with break laws in the state of Washington and other relevant laws and regulations governing this area. 

This policy acts as a guide, laying out the rules and procedures for ensuring employees get their required breaks. 

Besides meal and rest breaks as defined by the state law, there are some other breaks you could consider covering by your policy, such as restroom breaks, breaks for nursing employees, or health issue breaks, granted by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Beyond just ticking legal boxes, employee breaks policy will show your commitment to a positive workplace. Being clear about break durations, timing, and expectations will ensure things run smoothly and minimize the chance of legal issues.

Check our resource article on the Employee Breaks Policy, or download a free template and adjust it to your business needs. 

Use a Reliable Time-Tracking System for Accurate Records

A reliable and accurate time-tracking software like Timeero can support your employee break policy and implement the best break-related practices into the regular workflow.

So, what can Timeero do for you to ensure your business compliance with Washington break laws?


Enforce Your Company Breaks Policy

Once you have employee breaks clearly defined in your policy, you can use Timeero to set up the break periods accordingly and assign the breaks to your employees.

timeero break settings admin
Easily add break rules under your policy.

You can create different break rules from the company’s settings, naming each break and defining its length and compensation status.

Let Employees Log Their Breaks Effortlessly

Once you’ve created the breaks under your policy, you can assign them to your employees.

Your employees will find it very easy to track and record their breaks using the mobile app.

timeero mobile breaks
Employees can track their breaks from their mobile app.

All they have to do is select “Start Break” on their time clock tool, choose the type of break, and they’re ready to go.

What’s very important is that during the breaks, neither you nor your employees need to worry about privacy - the app won’t track the location while they’re using breaks. 

Remind Employees of Their Breaks

When the breaks are mandatory, employees forgetting to use them or choosing to skip their breaks can pose a legal and financial liability to your business.

Having a timely reminder can reduce this risk. 

You can use Timeero’s scheduling tool to schedule employees’ breaks.

timeero scheduling tool
Schedule a break to remind your employees.

The break will show up in employees’ work schedules. Besides, the app will notify an employee 10 minutes before their break begins.

timeero mobile schedule
Employees can view their breaks in their schedule.

Regularly Audit Your Breaks

Your managers and supervisors can see whether employees are using their breaks in a compliant manner by simply checking out the Time and Mileage Dashboard. 

timeero time and mileage admin view
Monitor whether your employees are using their breaks.

There is a coffee cup symbol beyond the employee’s name when they use their breaks. You can also see how many break minutes they’ve used when you hover over it.

This way, you can monitor the break usage daily and react as soon as you identify violations. 

Always Have Accurate Records to Prove Compliance

Using Timeero to track your employees’ time and breaks, you will always have accurate records of your employees’ hours.

timeero break reports
Generate break reports for more detailed information.

This will help you stay compliant with Washington break laws, calculate labor costs, and ensure you’re paying your employees adequately for all the working hours, including overtime pay.

And, in case of a lawsuit or investigation, you will have accurate and reliable records in no time.

Besides tracking your employees’ time and breaks, Timeero can improve your overall efficiency with its real location and mileage tracking, scheduling and PTO management capabilities, and other features.

To learn more about how this tool can benefit your business, check out our Timeero review or just sign up for a free trial and test it yourself.

Washington Break Laws FAQ

How many breaks do you get in an 8-hour shift in the state of Washington?

You will generally get two paid rest breaks and one unpaid meal break during an 8-hour shift in Washington. These are the minimum break requirements in the state.

Do you have to take a 30-minute lunch break in Washington?

As an employee in Washington, you can take an uninterrupted 30-minute lunch break. However, you and your employer may agree to waive the meal break voluntarily.

Are 10-minute breaks mandatory in the state of Washington?

Yes, 10-minute rest breaks are mandatory in Washington for every 4-hour work period and cannot be waived. These breaks are paid, and you must be relieved of all work-related duties during them.

Do employers have to pay for break time in Washington?

Under the Washington Break laws, employers are required to pay for mandated rest breaks and meal periods if employees have to remain on duty, on call, or perform any work-related activities. Bona fide meal breaks are generally unpaid.

What is the maximum amount of break time in the state of Washington?

Washington Break laws set minimum standards for meal and rest breaks: one rest break for every 4 hours worked and one meal break for working over the 5-hour work shift. However, it’s an employer’s discretion to provide for higher standards.

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