Can Your Employer Force You to Take Lunch Breaks? Depends on the State…

Brown_Bag_LunchWe know the deal. You’re working hard, we get it. You’re grabbing a sandwich and eating in front of your laptop during a conference call at 3 p.m. and calling it lunch.

Been there, done that, completely get it.

But what happens when your employer puts a foot down to require you physically take a break? It sounds like a refreshing anomaly, doesn’t it?

It is indeed happening and according to a piece on AOL Jobs about lunch breaks, your supervisor can require you to take your lunch break. That said, it depends on where you reside in terms of whether it’s legal to force you to take that break at the end of the day.

Come again? Per the piece, no federal law exists requiring employers to allow for any breaks except for breastfeeding. In fact, several states don’t require breaks either. A main driver for employers condoning breaks may be attributed to not wanting to pay overtime. (Maybe the optimist in us believes they also care about our well-being?) Essentially, federal laws let employers figure out if they’re going to provide breaks and if so, when.

Break times vary by states. In California, employers must give employees a half-hour break after working five hours whereas in Connecticut, employers must give employees a half-hour break after two hours and another 30 minutes after your last two hours if you work a 7 and a half hour day. Let’s also compare this to Washington – they must give employees 30 minutes between the second and fifth hour of work of the day if the day exceeds five hours.

Cue head spinning. It sounds confusing but technically you only need to know what applies to your own state; contact an employment lawyer for more information.

If your intense workload makes it virtually impossible to take a break, notify your supervisor once you realize the break is not going to happen. Ask for assistance. In the case where the supervisor is demanding a break, if your assistance is denied, be sure to take that break before you leave so you can’t be accused of insubordination.

And if you happen to notice you’re getting singled out since others in your department take lunch at a normal time and your workload is unbearable, the piece suggests “looking around at who is being treated better than you. If they are all younger, or of a different race, sex, religion or national origin than you, you may be encountering discrimination.”

If that’s happening, refer to your company’s handbook and policy to report discrimination. Most likely you’ll need to confer with HR; at that point, put it in writing. “Ask them to take prompt action to correct the situation. If they retaliate, you’re legally protected if you can prove you reported discrimination.”