Employees have a right under Washington law to take rest breaks and meal breaks. Employees under 18 and agricultural workers have different standards than those listed on this page. With only a few exceptions, an employee’s work schedule is set by their employer.
Employees must be allowed a paid rest period, free from duties, of at least 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked. Additionally:
- Employees cannot be required to work more than 3 hours without a rest break.
- Breaks must be scheduled as close to the midpoint of a work period as possible.
- Employers can require workers to stay on the job site during a rest break.
- Rest breaks taken are considered “hours worked” when calculating paid sick leave and overtime.
In some jobs, “mini” rest breaks can be taken instead of a scheduled rest break. These “mini” rest breaks must total at least 10 minutes over a 4-hour period.
Nursing mothers may have additional rights under federal law.
Health care workers may also have specific meal and rest period requirements.
Employees 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. (DOSH Directive 5.98)
Employees must be allowed a meal period when they work more than five hours in a shift. A meal period must be at least 30 minutes long and start between the second and fifth hour of the shift.
Depending on the length of the shift and the timing of the meal period provided, employees may also be entitled to additional meal periods. See WAC 296-126-092(2) and (3).
Paid meal periods
Employees must be paid for meal breaks if:
- They are required to remain on duty.
- The employer requires them to remain on-call on the premises or work site in the interest of the employer, even if they are not called back to duty.
- They are called back to work, interrupting the meal period.
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. Work performed during meal breaks is considered “hours worked” when calculating paid sick leave and overtime.
Unpaid meal periods
Employers are not required to pay for a meal break if an employee is free from all duties for their entire break. Employees can only be required to remain on the premises or work site during their meal period if they are completely free from work duties.
Unpaid meal breaks are not considered “hours worked.”
Additional meal periods for employees working extra hours/shifts
Employees working more than 3 hours beyond their scheduled shift are entitled to additional meal periods. Additional 30-minute meal periods must be given within five hours from the end of the first meal period and for each additional five hours worked.
Waivers and variances
- Employees can waive their meal break requirement if both they and their employer agree.
- Employees cannot waive rest break requirements.
- Employers may file a Variance Application (F700-089-000) to modify rest and meal break requirements.
For most employees, there are no state requirements regulating how and when they are scheduled. An employer has the right to change an employee's schedule at any time, with or without notice. Employers are not required to give weekends or holidays off and can schedule mandatory overtime.
There are scheduling and overtime restrictions for:
- Certain health care workers.
- Large retailers, food service providers, and full service restaurants in the City of Seattle.