Should You Pay Your Employees for Working During Lunch?

Beth Dean 09.27.22
Weekly Tip - working during lunch

Get the low down on how to handle pay correctly.

Should you pay your employees for working during lunch?


Easy answer! Right?

Well, no. Though the simple answer is an emphatic yes, it’s a bit more nuanced. 

The topic of lunch and compensable time can be tricky. There are many ways an employee could “accidentally” work during lunch without being paid, throwing your company out of compliance with the Department of Labor (DOL).

Lunch breaks, or the lack thereof, are scrutinized heavily by the DOL since they’re a potential source of missed pay for nonexempt employees. Many companies have an employee handbook policy that mandates lunch breaks, but sometimes that policy is ignored during busy times.

Here are 5 areas to watch out for to ensure you’re paying your employees correctly regarding lunch breaks.


Working during lunch – 5 areas for extra caution:

  1. Automatic meal deductions

Some companies will automatically deduct an hour from an employee’s timecard daily, assuming they will take lunch. The trouble is, sometimes employees get busy and have their lunches cut short or even cut altogether. The meal deduction should reflect the actual time taken off. 

  1. Meals at the desk

The temptation is too great to work when you’re eating at your desk. Even if you’re chowing down on a sandwich and perusing the latest online sales, if an email or work message pops up and you read or respond to it, you’re suddenly working again. Think of meals at the desk as continued work…with food.

  1. Offsite business lunches

Sometimes hourly-paid employees will clock out for a business lunch for which they should be paid, such as meeting with a client, attending an industry luncheon, or relocating a department meeting to a restaurant. Work done off property is still work. 

  1. Shop talk

Sometimes, an employee will eat in the company break room, and a manager or coworker will come in and ask questions about the status of a project or even ask the employee to take a client or vendor phone call. For a meal break to be a bona fide unpaid break, according to the Department of Labor, it must be at least 30 continuous minutes. A work-related interruption that cuts into this time turns it into a compensable short break.

  1. Forgetting to clock back in

Sometimes employees forget to clock back in after lunch. Even if the employee did not keep proper records, they still must be paid for the time worked. As a manager, if you see a suspiciously long lunch break, it would also be a good idea to reach out to the employee to ensure any working time doesn’t go unpaid.


What are you to do about the employee who flaunts the mandatory lunchtime policy and regularly continues working? 

First, make sure you do have a policy that’s being violated. If it’s not in writing and isn’t enforced equally to everyone, it’s not a policy. Reach out to your HR pro to make an update, then roll out the changes and get signed acknowledgments from all employees.

Second, check if this employee is exempt or nonexempt from overtime pay. If the person is exempt, you may still want to enforce your lunchbreak policy to help maintain their health and fairness among all employees.  But speaking from a compliance point of view, it‘s the nonexempt employees you’ll want to keep an especially close eye on to make sure they receive compensation for all hours worked, even if they’re supposed to be off the clock.

Third, do continue to pay them for hours worked. Employers cannot deduct unauthorized hours worked; they must be paid for that time if they worked. 

If the employee works unauthorized hours during lunch, it’s a discipline problem; not a payroll problem. Connect with your HR pro to get advisement on beginning the progressive discipline process.

Need help on more employee matters? Subscribe to our weekly tips! We’ll keep you in the know!

Nextep Weekly Tip Signup

Also on Nextep

A new program impacting Minnesota employers called Paid Leave launches in January 2026. The program offers financial benefits to employees facing qualifying life events, requiring contributions from both employers and workers. This initiative aims to provide stability for employees during challenging times, potentially leading to a more engaged and productive workforce. What Does Paid Leave […]
Read more
Implementation Date: August 1, 2024 Summary Effective August 1, 2024, commissions, incentive pay, and bonuses are considered due in final wages in the state of Louisiana if they have been earned at the time of separation and have not been modified in accordance with a written policy addressing such payments. The amended law also specifies […]
Read more
Effective July 19, 2024, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updated its Hazard Communication (HazCom) Standard. This change improves the amount and quality of information on labels and safety data sheets (SDSs). The final rule aims to better inform employees about the chemicals they work with and improve workplace safety. Here’s a summary of […]
Read more
Several states and local jurisdictions will increase their minimum wage rates on July 1, 2024. Below is a summary of these changes and guidelines to help you comply with your minimum wage requirements.  As a reminder, when federal and state or local payroll laws differ, the employer must adhere to the law that benefits the […]
Read more
Get ready for changes! As of July 1, 2024, a new wave of state laws are set to go into effect across the country. These updates impact everything from worker protections and minimum wage to important regulations for businesses. Whether you’re an employer, employee, or simply a resident staying informed, this article will guide you […]
Read more
Exemptions from Overtime Pay: A Guide for Employers The Department of Labor (DOL) has announced significant changes to overtime regulations for salaried employees exempt from overtime pay. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know and how to prepare: Key Changes: Increased Salary Thresholds: Currently, salaried workers earning more than $35,568 annually are exempt […]
Read more
A Game Changer for Employers The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently made a significant change regarding employers’ use of non-compete agreements. The final rule issued by the FTC prohibits the use of non-compete agreements for many workers, which is a departure from the longstanding practices of many companies. This decision is already facing legal challenges, […]
Read more
Key Points for Employers About the Latest Harassment Guidance The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has recently updated its guidelines on workplace harassment enforcement. This was the EEOC’s first update in more than 30 years. The updates are intended to clarify and modernize existing standards. These changes take into account recent legal developments and the […]
Read more
What You Need to Know About PWFA The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released the final regulations for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). These regulations, taking effect on June 18, 2024, update the PWFA rules put into place in 2023 and significantly impact how employers with at least 15 employees accommodate workers with […]
Read more
When Addiction Strikes at Work The issue of addiction in the workplace presents a complex challenge for both employers and employees. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects qualified individuals with disabilities, but active addiction itself isn’t necessarily covered. Here’s a breakdown of rights and responsibilities: Employee Rights Under the ADA Generally Not Covered: The […]
Read more
What is Considered “Reasonable”? What happens when an employee with a disability needs an adjustment to perform their job effectively? This is where reasonable accommodations come in. However, the question often arises: what exactly is considered “reasonable” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? Striking a Balance The key is to find a balance between […]
Read more
It’s time for an ADA refresher! The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a cornerstone of civil rights legislation, ensuring equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities. As an employer, understanding your obligations under the ADA is crucial. Here’s a breakdown of the key points: What qualifies as a disability? The ADA defines a person […]
Read more

Download Our App

Download the Nextep Mobile App in Apple iOS or Google Play