Hourly Workers: Clock in and Answer This One!

I manage a group of hourly workers in a call center. Our Personnel Manual for Hourly Staff reads as follows:

Here’s the thing - earlier this week, an employee complained that she was feeling ill and asked her Supervisor if she could clock out early. (She pointed out that she had not taken a break.) For argument’s sake, let’s say she worked from noon to 5 PM and wanted to clock out at 4:30.

He said she could leave, and she did.

When he tallied up the time sheets, he saw that she had clocked out at 5:00 and corrected her timesheet to reflect that she had, in fact, left at 4:30.

She came to me, upset that he had debited the half hour from her pay.

Here’s the issue: Looking at the way the Personnel Manual is written, is a worker allowed to take a paid break at the end of his or her shift, in essence leaving a half hour early?

How is this issue handled at your place of employment?

Well, there’s nothing in the policy that specifies that a break cannot be at the end of the day. But one could make the case that the word break itself implies a temporary leave and subsequent return.

I say definitely give the woman off this time, and afterwards make the policy clearer one way or the other.

I’m posting to this topic to illustrate that “it depends.”

I’m an hourly paid Instrument Technician in a large chemical company, reporting to the Plant Engineer. I calibrate, repair, and sometimes build instruments that monitor and record various processes.

We have a policy in place, but it simply is not followed by the skilled personell.

We go on break when and for how long depending on present conditions.

There have been times when lunch was a sandwich in one hand and a Multi-Tester in the other.

Then there’s a day like today, when I’m in my cubicle roaming the net and posting, because there’s nothing to do.

I don’t think that I, in good conscience, can complain if I miss my lunch tomorrow.

However, it seems to me the the lady has fulfilled her obligation and worked the hours that the company expects from her. I think she should be paid.

My two cents. (Canadian)

It looks like the supervisor is simply following policy.

She worked a 4 and a half hour shift and wanted to add 30 minutes to the end. I personally think the supervisor is being petty, but he has the policy on his side.


Rules like that were designed because people abuse the break policy…In this case it was not a case of rule abuse, but my manager has made it absolutely clear–there is a difference between taking a break and clocking out. Breaks are NOT for leaving early or arriving late. If you think you deserve to get paid for being sick, make sure you have a job that provides sick leave. I know that sounds really heartless, but that’s the way it is.

As the head server in a restaurant, I always tell my new people that you are NOT guaranteed a break at night. If it’s slow and there are enough people to cover your section, fine. If it’s busy, too bad, it’s not happening tonight.

As head server, I always come in and eat my dinner before my shift starts (unpaid). Then I don’t have to worry if I get a break and can use that time to cover for others who need a break.

Also, get used to working 5 hours without a break. I eat and walk a lot. No pity here.


Does the Personnel Manual specify that one must clock out for the lunch break, or will the half hour be automatically deducted from all shifts lasting five hours?

(At one of my jobs, my boss automatically deducts the half hour. If I decide not to take the break during my shift, I simply clock out a half hour later than my actual time of departure.)

Given that you’ve quoted the relevant policy completely, the boss has the written word on their side, since a ‘break’ means coming back to work and not clocking out early. As a matter of fact, it seems to imply that by the phrasing about not adding 1/2 hour to end of shift etc.

while it seems heartless in this instance (since you’re looking at one single person), consider the implications of how it’d work if that were policy - anyone could decide to take their break at the beginning of their shift and come in 1/2 hour late or at the end of the shift and leave 1/2 hour late. and if all of 'em did it???

One thing that strikes me as odd, tho’ if she was scheduled to work from 12 noon to 5 pm and left instead at 4:30, after having this discussion, when was she going to take her break in the first place? or, was she originally expected to work from noon to say 8 pm?

I would not interpret the phrase “You may not add a half hour to your time sheet for a skipped break” as refering to this situation, as some posters have suggested. I would think this phrase means that you cannot work to the end of your shift and get credit for working a half hour of overtime by pointing to your skipped break. In this instance the worker is actually taking the break - just taking it at the end of the shift.

It seems to me that some of the confusion may stem from the wording of the manual. There’s a certain type of break stipulated for working less than 4 hours, another type of break for working 5 hours (or more), but nothing that would clearly apply to working 4.5 hours (for example). Her supervisor treated her shortened shift as if it were the equivalent of working 4 hours or less, but she expected to be paid as usual because she had in fact worked more than 4 hours (albeit less than 5). I think in this case I would pay her the half hour, and then re-word the manual for future instances to say, e.g.:

  • 15 minute breaks apply to any shift less than 5 hours long
  • employees may leave early if ill, but then their pay will be measured by the amount of hours actually worked that shift
  • break time may not used at the end of a shift to allow an employee to leave early for any reason

Just a brief comment on this:

I don’t know if this applies to sdimbert’s situation or not… but when I was in retail, non-management staff were part of the Teamsters’ Union, which had strict rules governing breaks (how long, paid or not, clock out for break or not). Managers could NOT deny any employee the right to take a break; however, if the employee decided not to take a paid break, they were not given any additional compensation for having worked through it.

In the UK breaks are legally required after a certain number of hours. If this is the case where you are, then no, you can’t “save them up” for the end of day. Breaks are intended for health and safety, not recreation (more or less), particularly in manufacturing industries. Breaks are intended to give body and mind a break from working, staring at monitors etc.

It’s not freetime, it’s a health break.

How do you manage this? I can tell you right now, if they work over a certain number of hours, depending on what state you’re in, you COULD be inviolation of labor laws. Not being nasty, but you can get into some REAL TROUBLE with this kind of thing. ESPECIALLY if you have minors working there-then, you HAVE to give them a break.

In Pennsylvania, you get 15 minutes for every four hours, a half an hour for 6 and a half and over and so on and so on.
For minors here, if they work even one minute past five hours-they MUST clock out for a half an hour, or the place gets fined. Severely, I might add.
I understand you’re short handed, just that you might want to check the labor laws and make sure you’re not breaking them.


A lot of that depends on whether or not the place you’re working is a union shop.

When I worked at the Mouse House, we were required to be given the following breaks by our union contract:

4-5 hour shift - 1 15 minute break
5.5-6 hour shift - 2 15 minute breaks
6.5-8 hour shift - 2 15 minute breaks and 1 30 min lunch

and so forth.

The kicker is, if you were on a shift that required you receive a lunch, you had to have that lunch no more than four hours into your shift. If we were not given our lunch at the appropriate time, DL had to pay us for that half-hour lunch break and give us a full hour for our lunch. (This policy often resulted in the 6.5 hour shifts having two “lunch” breaks, often less than an hour apart. :rolleyes: )

Now, I moved on to a large chain of bookstores, and their break schedule was much less, and very different. Non-union.

However, as the OP has spelled out the terms of their contract, the woman should have been given a break before she received it - but I don’t know that she should be paid for the time she didn’t work, either. It sounds to me like she’s trying to work the system to her advantage, which has been considered in the wording of the employee agreement.

I was surprised to learn several years ago that the customary 10 or 15 minute paid coffee break for a four hour stretch is not a requirement under British Columbia’s labour code, usually the most liberal in Canada. However a half hour break is required after 4 or 5 hours. In other words the lunch break. Employers in construction and manufacturing however maintain the coffee break custom due to the inertia of ancient union contracts and the rationalization that the paid coffee break will enhance morale and productivity. Taking the break at the end of the shift, however provides no return benefit for the employer. Furthermore, you are still on call during a coffee break, in case of a sudden demand.

Where I work, the policy is that you’re not allowed to take a break in the last hour of your shift. No problems here.

Working at the hospital, our 12 hour shifts were really closer to 14 hours or more: you’re on the floor from 7 to 7, but you have to get report before and after, finish your paperwork, etc. Company policy says you’re supposed to get a 1/2 hour unpaid break during the shift.

The company increased our workload dramatically: instead of taking care of 2 critically ill patients, we were given 3. Also, they eliminated many of the employees who helped us: nurse techs, phlebotomists, x-ray techs, EKG techs, etc. so that the RNs took over those functions.

It was rarely possible to take any sort of a break at all. You just can’t leave your patients; in order to even run to the bathroom and pee you have to find another nurse that can cover you. Also, it was forbidden to consume any food or drinks on the floor, so we couldn’t eat while we worked.

Because we routinely worked without breaks, we’d write in on the timesheet, “no lunch” and we’d get paid for that half hour that would otherwise be deducted. Then, management decided this was unacceptable and required us to fill out a lengthy form (while clocked out, of course) to explain exactly why that break was missed. When an employee repeatedly wrote “no lunch” on the time sheet, she’d be disciplined.

“Everyone has to take a lunch!” the director would say, but this didn’t change the fact that it was impossible. So, we worked a half hour every day without pay. [/digression]

I don’t think the employee in question should get paid for leaving early. When you take a break, you should be available to work (on call) if it gets busy and you’re needed. Obviously, you can’t be much help if you’ve already left the building.

I work at a data processing company. We get an hour for lunch. If you happen to take an extra 15 minutes, nobody really cares as long as it’s not a habit. Same thing with leaving a little early, if it’s not a habit it’s assumed you worked a full shift(we don’t punch a clock).

If someone doesn’t take a lunch, that person is out of luck. they could have taken one if they wanted to. They won’t get an hour OT, and it won’t make up for leaving an hour early. In my experience, the people who want to get paid OT for not taking a lunch, or use it as excuse to leave early are people who make it a habit.(bear in mind that I’m not in a field where somebody may die if we walk away for an hour)

Several policies at places I have worked have stipulated that breaks cannot be taken within the first or last hours of a shift. This addition to the rules at the OP’s place of business may help.

So far as the “mandatory” break times by law referred to earlier, it also depends on the type of job it is. For example, the local labor regulations stipulate that an thirty-minute unapid break must be given to anyone working six or more hours. However, there are exceptions. If the job requires someone to be available 24/7/365 (police, hospitals, tv master control, etc.) the only provision that must be made is that the person be allowed a location to eat during the shift. Also, wait staff is excluded from these rules since they have more liberal opportunities to eat, go to the bathroom, etc.

Anyone, back to the OP, since the woman had not taken her break yet for the day, it sounds like she was planning all along to be “sick” at the end of the day and leave early while getting paid for it. Of course, if she was scheduled until 8pm or something, nevermind!

We have the same situation at our hospital, but we are still getting paid for our ‘no lunches.’ What hospital do you work for? I work at a Sisters of Charity system hospital in Louisiana.

The manual should be revised to remove the ambiguity between 4 and 5 hour shifts for these unusual circumstances. I would think it should read “less than 5 hours” since the 5 hour mark is where the break policy differs.

It’s curious she got sick exactly 4.5 hours into her shift. Hmmm.

From the wording, it sounds like the break is elective as opposed to mandatory.

If this is the case, it would be up to the employee to request the break. If it is a mandatory break, the supervisor has the responsibility to see that it’s taken during the shift. As previously stated, a break is a method of increasing productivity by decreasing fatigue. In either case, it’s in the employer’s interest to enforce the intent of the policy.

A possible position to be taken by the employee would be… If she really was so buried with work there was no time for a break, she deserves the pay. I believe the employer has the responsibility to schedule enough workers to get the job done in compliance with the break policy.
But, what the hell do I know? I’m on salary. :wink:

Unfortunately there are lots of laws that are not followed to the letter.

Our employees do not get paid breaks for any reason. And they do not get to take them at their discretion. They do not get to take them at our discretion. They take them at our customer’s discretion. When we are slow, we get breaks. Almost everyone gets a break every day. But I don’t guarantee it. Even when I take a mid-shift break it’s on the stipulation that I will get up and work the instant that it gets busy. Yeah I could bust my boss, but we arguing over 15 unpaid minutes.