Employers not allowing you to leave business property at 15min break time

Can your employer tell you that you are not allowed to walk outside the building unless you are smoking during your 15min break time? Can they stop you from going to a coffee vendor next door?

Since you’re still on the clock during a 15-minute break, it seems to me that the boss is within his rights to require you to remain on company property.

Is this a paid or unpaid break?
Are you in the US?
What state?
What municipality?
Is your employer a private company?
Is your employer a government agency?

Holding you on the property against your will would be kidnapping or false imprisonment! If you mean are they allowed to tell you that if you leave you’re fired, yes of course they are. If you are employed under an ‘at will’ contract which most jobs are. In other words the employment is at will on both sides, employer and employee, and either party may terminate that relationship at any time, and for any reason (except discriminatory issues involving race, creed, color, sex, physical handicaps, etc). If you could prove that a medical condition required you to to have that particular coffee and could successfully argue that allowing you to walk next door was a fair and reasonable accommodation, you might have a chance. There is nothing illegal about requiring employees to stay on the property during their shifts in general because you are still being paid for your break and thus still on their time. This might vary from state to state but probably doesn’t. What does seem discriminatory is allowing smokers to go outside and nobody else. Why don’t you just pretend to take up smoking and walk to the coffee shop with an unlit cigarette in your hand?

In my former job, when I first started, we were told that during breaks we couldn’t leave company property for insurance reasons – if we got hit by a car or fell down the stairs, it would be considered an on-the-job injury because we were still on the clock, and therefore we should stay on the grounds. Our lunches were unpaid, and so we could leave at will; if we got hurt then, our regular insurance would cover us. I have no idea if the “insurance” story was true or BS.

Later on, the rules lightened up, but I don’t think it was because the rules changed or people just disobeyed them so much that the bosses gave up. There was a bank branch across the street and people would run over there all the time to hit the ATM, among other things.

I have the same policy and it is due to insurance liability as Sigmagirl stated.

If you want to leave the property, you must be off the clock. The risk is too great to the company otherwise.

It isn’t kidnapping because you aren’t being forced to stay. At any time, you are free to clock out and leave. You may not have a job to come back to but you aren’t being held against your will.

Call your state labor board (if you are in the US). They should be able to tell you pretty quickly what is/isn’t allowed.

I believe this is going to come down to state law, since most regulation of breaks during the workday does. I wonder about the “unless you are smoking” part of the OP. On the one hand, I don’t know of any laws that would treat the nonsmokers as a protected class, making discrimination against them illegal. On the other hand, it does put the lie to a genuine concern about insurance liability, IMHO.

Figure out what your state requires in terms of paid/ unpaid breaks.

Are smokers permitted “free range” when they are out smoking? Or are they only permitted to smoke in a designated area on company property? If it is the former, then I definitely see some discrimination going on (like alluded to by earlier posters). However, if it is the former than I see nothing wrong with keeping you on company property.

As others have mentioned, a primary reason to keep employees indoors (on company property) is to limit insurance liabilities. And although it sucks, I definitely understand the concern on the part of any business owner.

The logic behind the “punched out” never really made sense to me, since salaried employees don’t punch in or out and are subject to the same rule.

I have never seen any such “insurance,” policy when I worked in H/R. The insurance I’ve seen clearly says “anytime you’re engaged in business directly relating to the company on/off the clock, you are subject.”

I know the courts (at least in Illinois) that as long as you are engaged in business the company can be held liable. For example and employee lives next door to an office. And you need a package sent to that office from your place of employment. Normally you use a courier service, but the employee says, “Gee I’m going home anyway and the office is right next door to where I live, so I’ll just drop the package off.” In this case the employee was covered and deemed to be on company time, even though he was punched out.

I think the “real” reason companies have this policy is they want you to restrict bad behaviour. For instance, in every hotel I worked at they had a simple rule, you could NOT be seen outside of work in your uniform. Nor could you wear your nametag outside the hotel. So if you went on lunch break you had to change out of your uniform if you wanted to leave the hotel property, OR you had to wear your coat in such a way to make it unrecognizeable where you worked. And of course you had to take off your nametag.

A lot of employers have rules like this. For instance, there was an airline that said employees can’t wear their uniforms and there were a couple of instances of a pilot and flight attendents, posting their picture on dating sites when they were photograph in uniform. The courts rules the company WAS within their rights, because the employee was attempting to affiliate himself with the company and could’ve easily taken a picture or cropped that pic in such a way to make him unidentifable as an employee of a company

Markxxx, the ins and outs of “arise out of and in the course of employment” are so complex, it’s not easy to cover them with grand, sweeping statements such as you make. They also vary state to state significantly.

And the insurance issue that is under discussion isn’t workers’ compensation liability so much as it is liability for the acts of the employee on the break.

And as a general rule, yes, an employer can fire you for the fact that you go outside during a 15-minute break against the rules, unless you are subject to a contract such as that negotiated by a union. Of course, jurisdictions vary and the devil will be in the details.