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Should Your Employee Be Paid for Working During Lunch?

Beth Dean 12.02.15
50 Multiple Devices

Yes.
Shortest HR Tip ever! Right?

Well, no. the topic of lunch and compensable time can be a bit tricky, and there are actually many ways an employee could accidentally work during lunch without being paid, throwing your company way out of compliance with the Department of Labor (DOL).

As we reported a couple of weeks ago, there are some habits that employees who are currently exempt from overtime pay may have to break if they lose that exempt status once overtime reform becomes official. Lunch breaks, or the lack thereof, are scrutinized heavily by the DOL since they could be a source of missed pay.

Working During Lunch – 5 areas to watch out for:

1. Automatic meal deductions
Some companies will automatically deduct an hour from an employee’s time card each day with the assumption that lunch will be taken. Trouble is, sometimes employees get busy and have their lunches cut short, or even cut all together. The meal deduction should reflect actual time taken off.

2. Meals at the desk
The temptation is just 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 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.

3. 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.

4. Shop talk
Sometimes, an employee will be eating in the company break room and a manager or coworker will come in and start asking questions about the status of a project, or even ask the employee to come take a client or vendor phone call. For a meal break to be bona fide 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.

5. Forgetting to clock back in
Sometimes employees forget to clock back in after lunch. Even if the employee did not keep proper records, he or she 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 make sure any working time doesn’t go unpaid.

For human resource guidance regarding working during lunch and other pay-related issues, please contact Nextep’s HR team.

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