Federal law makes no provision at all for breaks. State law is ambiguous: while employees must be paid for these breaks, employers are not required to provide them.
The fact remains that breaks are customary at most places of employment, the reason being that workers who don't get a few minutes to chill can become a problem. They are unable to call their families, they show signs of anxiety and exhaustion, and their productivity may taper off. On top of this, not offering any kind of break seems old-school and bad for morale.
Meal breaks and rest breaks
New York requires employers to provide meal breaks but does not require that they provide rest breaks. How long breaks last depends on the shift and the industry involved.
Factory employees (really, workers in any mass production setting) get a one-hour break that must occur between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Mercantile employees (plus other employees covered by New York labor laws) get a 30-minute break during the same time period.
When an employee's shift starts earlier than 11 a.m. and ends later than 7 p.m., the employee gets an extra 20-minute break between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Shift workers who put in more than six hours are guaranteed a meal break in the middle of that shift. Factory and manufacturing workers are entitled to a one-hour break. Mercantile and other covered employees are entitled to a 45-minute lunch break.
Employers are not obligated to pay for meal breaks. Nor must the employee perform any kind of work during this period.
Only if breaks are allowed
Nevertheless, these rules only apply if an employer allows breaks.
There are often misunderstandings among employees and employers about breaks primarily if they have worked or done business in other states. When you are in doubt, consult with an experienced employment law attorney.