Tl;dr: are US federal government employees required to take a 30-minute break during an 8-hour workday? If not, how do I explain to my supervisor I won’t take my break when he insists I have to?

I started a new temporary position at a (US) federal government agency. At my previous position (also US federal government), I typically worked my eight hours without taking an official break, opting to eat lunch at my desk while working. I never took any other meaningful breaks, apart from a few short 5-minute bathroom breaks throughout the day.

Today, my new supervisor questioned why I had been leaving work after “only” 8 hours, telling me I had to stay at least an additional 30 minutes to account for my “mandatory” break. When I told him of my preference of forgoing my break and working during lunch to be able to leave sooner, he told me cannot do that and that he often works through lunch too, but still stays the extra 30. This I know is illegal, if you are working during a meal period it is considered time on the clock.

My question is, is my supervisor correct? Am I forced to take this break? Follow-up question if he is NOT correct: how do I explain to my supervisor that I will NOT stay the extra time? He was very firm with me that I had to stay. I’m still new and don’t want any bad blood this early on. Thanks for reading.

Edit: Thanks all for the responses. I've decided I'll just stay the extra time for the duration of this work assignment (about 3 months) but make it clear that I will NOT be doing any kind of work during that extra time.

  • I’ve read the first link before, it doesn’t have any info about my state (VA). I’m not working for a private company, but rather the federal government. I was wondering if anyone was aware of any federal law that mandates employees take a break (because I couldn’t find one). Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 20:57
  • Based on your second comment, it looks like it’s at the supervisor’s discretion as to whether I can work through the break, I.e. he can force me to? Unless I’m misunderstanding it. Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 21:02
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    With your latest edit... that's a terrible idea. You're burning bridges that you don't need to, on a matter that is most likely utterly beyond the ability of anyone you know to change, and possibly openly stating to representatives of the federal government that you intend to defy the law. This is a bad idea.
    – Ben Barden
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 21:30
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    @BenBarden how so? I am saying that I'll take the required 30 minutes (unpaid) break and leave 30 minutes later, which is exactly what my supervisor asked me to do. Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 21:35
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    "opting to eat lunch at my desk while working" -- You're essentially taking a break here as that is not work, and eating while working will lower your efficiency. Not that I consider it a good or relaxing break. Commented Jun 13, 2019 at 8:34

1 Answer 1


It varies. Also, I believe that you are looking at this wrong.

First, laws about taking breaks and what breaks they have to offer you and overtime and so forth depend on what kind of employee you are, and what state you're in. Unfortunately, I couldn't give you exact details on this even if I did know all of the pertinent information. I am not a lawyer.

More to the point, though, It is entirely reasonable company policy, and normal in many places, to insist that you take time to eat lunch, and that you not take a "working lunch" where you eat and work at the same time. I haven't been anywhere that you were required to take a full half-hour, but it's not implausible, especially if you have a union or some such.

Is there some reason you thought he was referring to matters of law, rather than matters of company policy?

Regardless, it would likely behoove you to get a copy of the employee manual or equivalent and read through it soon, so that you can know what all of these company policies are.


More specific to your case: you've said in comments that you work for the Federal Government. That's... significant. The federal government has a lot of laws about it, but it also has a lot of regulations - some of which apply to the government as a whole, some of which apply to specific major organizations, some of which apply to individual divisions or codes or whatever it is that you're working in. The bad news is, given that that's the case, your boss is probably right. It is, if anything, even more important to know what the actual regulations applying to you are, and if it turns out that he's wrong, there's a decent chance that he'll be happy to know that, but he's probably right. The good news is that the federal government often has rules about things like flex-time, or shifted schedules, that can make things easier for you with respect to commute. If your commute traffic is terrible, I'd say try to see if you can't set up some sort of "Arrive early, leave early" thing, and dodge rush hour that way.

  • 1
    Thanks for the answer. I work for the federal government, there is no "company policy", the company policy is the law (Federal or state, as others have mentioned). I understand why employers want their employees to take breaks, but I have been performing far above expectations (previous supervisor's words) without taking official breaks up to this point. Forcing me to stay late (and thus fight the HORRIBLE commuter traffic in my area) is just going to kill my morale more than help it. Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 21:11
  • @InfiniteHigh I've added a bit more feedback, more specific to your situation.
    – Ben Barden
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 21:27
  • Thanks for the update I already arrive at work fairly early (6:45am) but given the commute that I take (I-95 Northbound, wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy) the traffic difference even between leaving work at 2:45pm and 3:15pm is significant. Regardless, I've just decided to just tough it for the duration of this assignment in order to avoid stirring the pot with my new temporary boss. Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 21:33
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    Having personal experience as an employee for the federal government, I can confirm that while you are given 30 minutes (plus any additional time your manager allows) to eat lunch, it actually is not paid depending on your position. Your manager is indeed correct, with respect to the fact, he likely does not get a paid lunch due to his position. If your position is a bargaining position I would contact your local union representative to determine what rules actually apply to you.
    – Donald
    Commented Jun 12, 2019 at 23:07
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    From your comment above - "Forcing me to stay late" - You might be looking at this wrong. Your boss wants you to stay the normal working hours. For example, if you are required to work 9-5 in your contract you must work that. Just because you didn't take your half hour break doesn't mean you get to leave early. If you wish to arrive to work early and thus leave early, or any other time schedule outside the norm, it should always be discussed and agreed upon with your supervisor ahead of time and not just assumed.
    – Matt K
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 20:31

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