Employees have a right under Washington law to take rest breaks and meal periods. Employees under 18 and non-agricultural workers have different standards for rest breaks and meal periods.

Rest Breaks

All workers must be allowed a paid rest period, free from duties, of at least 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked. The right to receive paid rest breaks cannot be waived by the worker or employer.

Note: Recent court cases have defined how agricultural workers must be paid during their rest breaks.

  • Hourly workers must be paid their regular hourly rate during their rest breaks.
    • For workers with more than one hourly rate, or who have both hourly and piece rate pay, calculate their regular hourly rate by totaling the weekly amount of pay and divide by the hours worked.
  • Piece-rate workers must be paid “on the employer’s time,” which is based on their regular rate of pay or the minimum wage, whichever is greater.
    • A worker’s “regular rate of pay” is calculated by dividing:
      • Their total weekly earnings, by
      • Their total active hours of work, excluding rest breaks.
      • This calculation must include any non-discretionary bonuses, including those paid after harvest, which are retroactively calculated.

Demetrio vs. Sakuma Brothers Farms

The Washington State Supreme Court examined the language “on the employer’s time” found in WAC 296-131-020. They determined that employers must pay piece-rate workers for their rest breaks. (see Demetrio vs. Sakuma Brothers Farms decision for full details)

Restroom Breaks

Workers must be provided “reasonable access” to bathrooms and toilet facilities. Employers cannot restrict use of bathroom or toilet facilities to rigid time schedules (e.g., only during scheduled breaks), or impose unreasonable time use restrictions. Restroom breaks are paid as hours worked. (DOSH Directive 5.98)

Meal Periods

All workers must receive a meal period of at least 30 minutes for every 5 hours worked. If they work more than 11 hours in a day, then they must receive an additional meal period of at least 30 minutes.

Meal periods are unpaid as long as the workers are fully relieved of duties during the entirety of their meal periods. The right to receive meal periods cannot be waived by the worker or employer. The employer must ensure workers receive their meal period. (see WAC 296-131-020)

Paid Meal Breaks

Workers must be paid for meal breaks if the meal period is interrupted and they are called back to work.

Employees who are required to work or remain on duty during a meal break are still entitled to 30 total minutes of mealtime, excluding interruptions. The entire meal period must be paid regardless of the number of interruptions.

Related Resources

See L&I Administrative Policy ES.C.6.2 for guidelines on how to calculate pay for rest breaks and employer and employee rights and responsibilities.