Can a company tell you you have to leave your desk for paid breaks? There is not a specified area for these breaks, but we were informed we “can not” stay at our desks for breaks, or for that matter lunch, which is an unpaid lunch. This is a high security facility, and if we are forced to leave our desks for a break in the “lunch room” can we make them find us a place for our breaks. The smokers get special privileges and area for their break. Is there a way we can make them do the same for us non smokers that like to sit at our desks and read ???

In short, yes. I’m not sure, if you are sent to take breaks in the lunch room, why you would need a special break area.

My bet is that your employer has had a problem with employees working during their breaks. People don’t generally think that it’s a big deal if they answer the phone, answer a co-worker’s question or respond to a quick e-mail during break. After all, it’s good for business and good not a big deal.

Except, it’s a huge deal for the company. If you are a non-exempt employee (overtime eligible) and you do ANY work off the clock the company can be in big legal and financial trouble.

Your company is probably trying to ensure that there is no misunderstanding–when you are on break you are NOT working. If you are “forced” to go to a lunch room for breaks and lunches, there is no way for you to claim, “I always worked through breaks.”

You can read in the lunch room.

As for the smokers, well it’s pretty obvious that when they are standing outside in the pouring rain, desperately puffing that they aren’t working. Just hope they are clocking out before each of their smoke breaks.

Sorry that it’s not the answer you wanted.

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5 thoughts on “Breaks

  1. Hi EvilHRLady.

    My impression from the letter is that although there is a smoking room, the “lunch room” is a notional place not a real one. I.e. there isn’t really anywhere to go for the break.

    I think the question is, if they make us take time away from our desk for breaks, do they have to give us a place to take those breaks? Other than perhaps a smoking room?

  2. RJ here, where are my manners! I should say I love your blog and check it daily. Thanks for my daily fix. Would love to hear the latest update on Switzerland too – are you moving to do battle with the forces of EU regulations?

  3. rj–if you are right and there is no place to go for breaks, then that really stinks. I still think it’s legal, but it is not a good practice.

    And no, we’re not moving to Switzerland yet. We may in the future. Mmmm, bread and chocolate.

  4. I don’t know. Legally ofcourse you would be right, but instead, can’t the company just put in a clause that employees won’t be compensated for working during breaks? Tht way, employees have some freedom to spend their break as they like. What if I dont want to eat lunch on a given day? It seems weird to be forced out of my desk…

  5. Apu–I do think it’s totally whacked. My bet is they’ve had problems in the past with people not taking the actual breaks and they are afraid of being burned.

    I always eat at my desk.

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