TN Meal Break Requirements for Tipped Employees

June 01, 2012

Effective May 17, 2012, Tennessee's meal and rest break law was amended, effectively requiring meal breaks for tipped employees in the food and beverage industry. The new law, however, also allows tipped employees to voluntarily waive their right to meal breaks. This bill may significantly impact the food and beverage industry if these employees choose to take advantage of their right to a meal break.

Currently under Tennessee law, employers must grant employees a 30-minute unpaid meal break for every 6 hours of consecutive work unless the nature of the business provides for plenty of opportunity for employees to take a meal break, such as in a restaurant during slow periods. Prior to this recent amendment, Tennessee food and beverage employers were not obligated to give rest breaks to their tipped employees as the Tennessee Department of Labor (TDOL) provided guidance to food and beverage employers that, due to the nature of their business, there was usually plenty of opportunity to take a meal break. As a result of this guidance, employers in the food and beverage industry were allowed to not grant lunch breaks to their employees, thus averting any disruptions in vital customer service.

This recent amendment to the Tennessee Code (Section 50-2-103(h)) reaffirms the 30-minute unpaid meal period requirement for employees working at least six consecutive hours. However, the law allows tipped employees to waive their rights to unpaid meal breaks by signing a waiver request form. However, it is essential the employee voluntarily agrees to such a waiver.

An employer who intends to enter into waiver agreements with tipped employees must develop a waiver request form that acknowledges an employee's right to an unpaid meal break and allows the employee to knowingly and voluntarily waive that right. In addition to providing a valid waiver request form, the employer also must post in at least one conspicuous place in the workplace a reasonable policy that permits employees to waive their meal breaks subject to the demands of the work environment. The employer's meal break waiver policy must contain the employer's waiver form, must identify the length of time the waiver will be in effect, and outline the procedure for rescinding the waiver agreement by the employee or the employer. For a waiver to be valid, the employee must submit the waiver request knowingly and voluntarily and both the employer and employee must consent to the waiver. Employers cannot coerce the employee into waiving a meal break.

Should you require assistance in developing a policy statement or waiver form, you may contact SESCO by phone at 423-764-4127 or by email at sesco@sescomgt.com.