Can I please take a lunch break?

by Evil HR Lady on April 2, 2015

I was just reading a great article you wrote titled Can you be fired for skipping lunch.

I have a question that has been pestering me for a while. I am an hourly worker and it’s normal for all my team members to work through lunches. Sometimes we take a 15-20 minute lunch maybe once or if lucky twice a week. Now, we do get paid overtime for working through lunches, but I’d rather have my lunch so I can calm my nerves? I really don’t care about the overtime pay.

My question is, is this legal or even ok to work an 8 hour shift with no lunch?

First of all, sucking up to me gets your question moved to the front of the queue. Just saying. Although, it needs to sound sincere. That was a particularly good article, if I do say so myself.

Okay, now that we’re done with Suzanne’s self-esteem boost, let’s answer the question. Federal law doesn’t require lunch breaks. Some state laws do. You can find out what your state law says by googling State Name, break law and you should find it pretty easily.

Regardless of whether the law requires you to take a lunch or not, it’s a really reasonable request. I, personally, always need a lunch. You don’t want to be around me if I haven’t been fed. Sometimes I do eat while working, other times I eat while watching Netflix. (I’m self-employed, so my boss allows that. She’s very nice. Weird, but nice.)

So, even if your state doesn’t require a lunch break, I’d approach your boss with something like this. “I find that I work so much better when I have time to eat and regenerate. I’m more productive if I get that break every day. Unfortunately, most of the time we work right through our lunch break. I know I’m getting paid, but I’d really like to take a 30 minute break–off the clock of course–every day. I’d be happy to stay late to catch up on anything that would normally been done during lunch. Is that possible?”

A rational manager will say yes. In fact, a rational manager will realize she’s built up a culture that doesn’t allow for food. This is a bad culture. Sure, there are times when it’s so busy you can hardly breathe, but if it’s like this every day, there’s a management problem.

Even if it is state law, approach it from the “I need this” first and then you can throw in, “I found out that state law requires this. I’d hate for the company to get in trouble!” But the real reason your boss should allow you to take a lunch break is that it’s the right thing for you and it makes you perform better.

Now, of course, there are other people out there who perform better (or think they perform better) when they just power through the day, without pausing. I’m not one of those people and neither are you. And with that, it’s 11:58. I’m signing off to have some lunch.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebecca April 2, 2015 at 12:27 pm

I just looked up the rules for my state, PA. If you’re over 18, there is no requirement for an employer to provide break time or meal times. Also, no requirement to provide holiday pay, sick pay, vacation pay, or severance pay. And to show you how out of date the statute is, the on call section references carrying a beeper, and if you’re at work and on call, they mention reading, listening to the radio, and visiting with others. I thought that was amusing because today if I was on call in the office, I’d have my tablet and play solitaire on the computer, or lurk on the internet.

My employer provides two short paid breaks, and a half hour unpaid lunch break. I find I’m more productive if I take breaks, rather than trying to slog through 9+ hours just pounding away. I also noticed that my coworkers who work through breaks and lunches are more frazzled, and still don’t get caught up in their work. I think it does your brain good to walk away and think about, or don’t think about, something else for 10 or 15 minutes, then return to the task at hand.

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Evil HR Lady April 2, 2015 at 2:10 pm

Yeah, I think people who don’t take any breaks are fooling themselves. I think it’s a matter of pride to say, “I work so hard I *never* take a break!”

I prefer to be able to clear my head. Even on the craziest of crazy days, ,I’ll always take time to go for a walk, just to clear my head. I know I can’t just keep pounding away without a break.

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Beth Lane April 2, 2015 at 12:31 pm

You are a hoot! I have been in HR for thirty years and have seen so many amazing things! I love your spunk and attitude displayed in your answers. I usually get a nugget or two and ALWAYS a laugh! I would love to buy you lunch….since you take one every day….

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Evil HR Lady April 2, 2015 at 2:11 pm

You are so sweet! I would love to go to lunch with you too. Mmm, lunch.

The spunk probably comes because I ate a Hostess cupcake before writing that. Preservatives!

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Dee April 2, 2015 at 3:21 pm

Meeting a few of my team members for lunch is the highlight of my day! Building those relationships is not only a valuable priority, it is fun too!

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Evil HR Lady April 2, 2015 at 4:05 pm

It’s great fun for some people. For others, they need some alone time to recharge.

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AggrAV8ed Tech April 2, 2015 at 3:55 pm

I’m one of those people that seems to rarely be able to take a lunch, but it’s not by choice in my case. I’ve been left as the only person in my department during the day and often, there’s no spare hour in which I can take a lunch to go decompress. Or, on the odd occasion I DO get a spare hour, I’m interrupted by a service call on the dept. cell phone and my lunch is cut very short.

And you may ask, why am I taking my dept. cell phone with me to lunch? Because my boss will come down on me if I don’t, despite the fact that the (spineless) union here says I should get paid for lunches if I’m essentially “on call”. What’s worse is that I don’t get OT for missing lunches because I’ll get hammered by both my boss and HR if I don’t put a lunch on my timesheet. It’s rather frustrating.

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Evil HR Lady April 2, 2015 at 4:05 pm

Keep track of your unpaid hours. After you find a new job and leave, file with the department of labor for unpaid wages.

Thy don’t call me evil for nothing.

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AggrAV8ed Tech April 2, 2015 at 4:40 pm

Ooooh, I like the way you think!

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TheWitchFromHR April 2, 2015 at 11:27 pm

Checking in from California, where the law requires employers to provide non-exempt employees who work more than 6 hours with not only an unpaid 30-minute meal break, and two paid 10-minute rest breaks. Missing a rest or meal break altogether earns the employee one hour paid time as a ‘missed meal period premium’, and yes, it is possible, if you don’t get any of these breaks, to get an addition 3 hours pay – 1 MMPP for the first missed rest break, 1 MMPP for the missed meal break, 1 MMPP for the second missed meal break.

It’s surprising how many employees get angry when told they have to take their breaks!

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HRTerminator April 3, 2015 at 12:34 am

In Oregon, non-exempt employees are required to take a 10 minute break for every 4 hours of work (or major portion thereof) and a 30 minute unpaid meal break for every 6 hours. So, an 8 hour day gets you 2 breaks and a meal. For some of my employees, getting them to come back from break after 10 minutes is impossible (hence my nickname, The Terminator) and for others, it is impossible to get them to take their breaks. Since it is required and Oregon is a stickler for those breaks and meals, I document everything and write employees up for missed breaks and lunches (and long breaks and lunches). Personally, I always take my lunch. I am exempt, so I am not required, but, see me on a day without food, and Terminator is the least of our problems.

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JB April 3, 2015 at 3:52 am

Are US labor laws just a work-around for murder? If an exempt employee technically and legally can be required to work 24 hours a day for about 2 weeks and denied meal breaks it seems possible to, in theory, kill them without breaking any laws. Seriously though, are we really getting to the point where people need to justify why they need food? Here are some pictures of child labor in America just to remind us the just because something is legal doesn’t mean it isn’t deranged. I think the lesson here is that employers apparently need everything spelled out for them and a labor law regarding “eating” may soon become necessary:

http://www.businessinsider.com/shocking-pictures-of-child-labor-in-america-less-than-100-years-ago-2012-2#cigar-factory-indianapolis-ind-boys-in-foreground-1

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Iforget April 3, 2015 at 11:09 am

Hey now… In one of those pictures two kids are having lunch.

In AZ they have no state law, so default to no mandated meals/breaks federal guideline. That said, employers who I have worked for granted non-exempt staff the same 2x10min & 30min requirements as in CA. These employers had employees located in CA also, so it was likely just easier to do paperwork-wise.

A lot of people value the image ‘no breaks’ can give and can get promoted in to positions of authority where they will really be oblivious unless it is spelled out. I had one particularly horrible boss who did “hunger strike it” up the ladder and I’m pretty sure she lived off of tiny peices of souls and full sugar soda. To her credit though, I probably wouldn’t want to eat after I rode a broom in to work either. It’s insane breaks do not seem logical to some people.

It’s better for everyone if I don’t get hangry and can get up to walk.

I really hope you can get some lunch… It shouldn’t be this hard!

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Suzanne April 3, 2015 at 1:17 pm

I live in Indiana which legally only has to pay you OT for anything over 8 hours, unless you are salaried, which is pretty freely used. Eating lunch while working is common in my experience. I’ve had several jobs that had a lunch time scheded but since there was no lunch or break room, you had to eat @ your desk and guess what that meant? Constant interruption, yes indeed.
Honestly, most places I’ve worked have been managed poorly.

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Eric Post April 25, 2015 at 10:40 pm

One thing to remember when you question why some state have such “weak” labor laws is to remember this, they probably had strong unions at one time.

I recently completed a project for Illinois which has fairly, in my opinion weak laws for the employees. But doing my research I found at one time Illinois have very strong unions. These unions negotiated CBA (collective bargaining agreements) that WERE enforceable.

So basically the attitude of state lawmakers was, “Why pass laws when the union’s contracts are doing it for us.”

When the unions declined in membership, the CBAs became non-effective for most new jobs, thus leaving the hole.

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