Meal break requirements for Illinois employees

In Chicago, and throughout Illinois, employees must be given a 20-minute unpaid meal break if they are working 7.5 hours or longer. The meal break must occur no later than 5 hours into the shift, according to Illinois labor law.

Some employers provide paid lunch breaks, but they are not required to do so.

Illinois is in the minority - the majority of states have no meal-break laws. In Illinois, not every employee is entitled to the meal break. If you are working fewer than 7.5 hours, no lunch break is required. If you are in a job monitoring those who have mental illness or developmental disabilities, a meal break may not be required. There are other exceptions, as well, such as when meal breaks are established by collective bargaining.

As for additional breaks beyond meal time, employers in Illinois aren't required to provide any. There is a minor exception for the Cook County hotel industry, where certain employees are entitled to 15-minute breaks during their shifts.

If your employer does not allow a 20-minute meal break, they may be violating the law. Even worse, you may be working for free. Your employer may be deducting those 20 minutes or more from your pay check even when you're not taking them. If you're working straight through your shift, you may not be getting paid for all of your time.   This lost money can and should be recovered.

When jobs are scarce, these rules can get overlooked. When people are taking any job they can find and working as many hours as they can, they probably aren't looking to make a fuss over a 20-minute break. That said, you should know the law and be aware of your rights.

If you're an employer, you should probably insist on lunch breaks, even if employees are willing to work straight through their shifts.  There is nothing in the meal-break section of the law that allows an employee to waive their break. So even if an employee willingly works through their meal break, you may be violating the law.



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