When did paid and unpaid lunch breaks become such a deal?

I am curious as to what makes employers decide on whether lunch breaks are paid or not ?
When I worked for a Canadian Airline I was surprised to see they expect you to work 40 hours and get paid for 37.5
Another airline had all paid breaks. My current employer expects us to work 42.5 hours and get paid for 40.
They even deduct lunch when we are called in for an overtime shift.
Did unions have anything to do with this ?
My company is not unionized. The other two airlines I mentioned are heavily unionized.

Most US states have laws on this. IIRC, in CA, if you are on duty during lunch, you get paid. Otherwise you get a half hour or more unpaid. That is if hourly.

If salaried, you are paid.

There is a mild federal law on short breaks, those are paid.

I’m not sure what you mean by these statements, but I suspect that what you mean is that you work 7.5 or 8 hours a day , and because of your lunch break, your day ends either 8 or 8.5 hours after it begins. But if you are a non-exempt* employee, you aren’t supposed to be working during an unpaid lunch break. Generally speaking, a meal period of 30 minutes or more is not considered work time if the employee is completely relieved of duties and it doesn’t matter if the employee is not permitted to leave the premises or if the employee doesn’t find it practical to leave the premises for a 30 minute break.

Regarding what makes employers decide whether lunch is paid or not, there have only been two situations I know of when employers provided hourly workers a paid lunch. One is when the employer sets a wage (say $10 hour) and pays for 40 hours at that wage even though the employee typically only works 37.5 - but in those cases, because they are always being paid for 40 hours if they worked an extra 2.5 hours over the course of a week, they received no extra pay since they were already being paid for 40 hours. The second is when the employee is not completely relieved of duty during a meal break - for example, a receptionist who is required to answer the phone during her meal period must be paid for that meal period. Most employers in my experience do not provide a paid lunch break for most employees.

Although Federal law does not require meal breaks, some state laws do, so that NYS requires a 30 or 60 minute meal period for a shift of six hours or longer depending on occupation. It’s a break, meaning you work before and after it , so that means if you work a 6.5 hour shift and and you get a 30 minute break, you will have 7 hours between your starting time and ending time. You can’t simply chop 30 minutes off the beginning or end, because you then would still be working six hours and need a 30 minute break in there somewhere.

* exempt employees aren’t paid by the hour, so it makes no sense for them to speak of being paid for a certain number of hours.

Most jobs require you to work 8 hours to recieve 8 hours pay. If in the middle of the work day you have 30 minutes where you are relieved of your work responsibilities you time at work will be 8.5 hours. the NLRB (ffederal ) requires non exempt employees who are working 6 hours or more take a 30 minute meal break in the middle of the work day. In the past there were a lot of companies that ignored the NLRB. But there have been more and more class action law suits against these companies and they have had to pay out large sums. MY son was hired as a store manager for a chain store. The company considered him exempt. For training his first 6 months he was a “co ,manager”. Many of the company was also callling other supervisors exempt when the did not meat the qualifications. They got tired of working over 60 hours a week for thier base pay and started a class action law suit. My son became part of that law suit. The judge was not considering giving my son any award, that is until he heard he was a “co manager” for 6 months. He got a very large check. I worked for a department store some years back. Often we would get our lunch interupted for an emergency. In union negoations we asked for 8 hours lunch inclusive. The HR VP refused to agree with that and instructed the union that the engineers were not answer any pages when they were at llunch.

If an employer wants his employee to be available during their lunch then the employer will be required to give paid lunches. That means even if they are not called on to do any work but required to stay at the job sight and possibly be called on.

I have stood boiler watch and the job was always 8 hours lunch inclusive. The only way they could have made lunch exclusive would have been if they were willing to have someone relieve me of my duties while I was at lunch.
At the department store where HR refused to pay us for our lunch, we told her that often we are getting emergency pages. The VP’s responce was If you have been at lunch for 1 minute and someone comes to you because a customer is trapped in an elevator we were to finish our lunch 1st. What we should do is tell the person bringing us the message, because we should not be answering pages, that we are lunch now and what time our lunch would be over. And she did back me at a later date. I was in one store one day and had just sat down to eat my lunch. The store manager paged me 1st on my page, then over store’s audio system. A few minutes later someone from the office stopped where I was eating to tell me that the store manager was paging me. I told them fine I will see him after lunch. 5 minutes later another person came into the break room to tell me Mr. K was going ballistic and I had better get to his office right now. I again told them I was eating lunch. After I finished lunch I took my lunch box back to the shop and got my tool pouch then went to the store manager’s office. Mr. K was boiling. I asked him I understand you wanted to see me? He started in on me about why I did not answer his page right away. I told him I was at lunch and I am not allowed to answer pages while on llunch. He tried to make it an issue and threatened me going straight to the department head about my not answering his page. I gave him the director of engineering’s phone number and then also suggested he call the VP of HR to clear up any missunderstanding. But before you call what was it you wanted me to work on? He told me and I told him I would go take care of it while he clweared up the miss understanding. Through the grape vine I heard he took it his chain of command trying to get me into trouble only to get shut down when it hit the coorprate offices.

Wow. There is a lot that i did not know about it.
I work an 8 hour shift but have to do an extra 30 min to get paid for 40 hrs.
We are always short staffed. After covid even more so. My co-workers eat at their desks and I don’t normally eat lunch so will be at my desk anyway.
None of us leave the premises.
From the posts above I now realize you are only paid for the time you actually do work for your employer. Like our cabin crew. Some of them had week long layovers without getting paid. Esp when Covid was at its peak.

I have had it both ways. One job I had automatically deducted 5 hours from your paycheck every pay week assuming you (even if you didn’t) took an hour for lunch.

Last 2 jobs I have had you get a paid lunch (1/2 hour) as long as you don’t leave the premises. Technically I am “on call” during my lunch break but only once in over 30 years have I got called away from my lunch.

Leave the premises and you need to punch out.

Most Canadian provinces have simple labour standards. (Airlines fall under federal jurisdiction, but I suspect it’s the same).

You are required to have a 15 minute break if you work 3 hours, and a half hour lunch break if you work more than 4 hours (or 4.5?). The general rule of thumb I’ve seen is - if you are required to stay on the premises and/or respond if there’s a need during your lunch break, you will be paid for it. If you are not paid for it, you are not “on the clock” and you may leave the premises - they can’t tell you what to do and not pay you. (I haven’t seen or heard of an employer that does not pay the 15 minute breaks.) If you continue working more than 8 hours, with a few technical exceptions, then you get another half-hour break in that next few hours and the 15 minute breaks too. Plus, more than 8 hours is overtime (time and a half).

There’s a specific list of what constitutes a manager - i.e. do you set your own work schedule within guidelines, do you have a say in hiring firing or discipline, do you actually manage other employees? Etc. the more of this you do, the more likely you qualify as manager. You can’t just call someone “manager” and avoid paying overtime.

So if you are asked to attend work for 8.5 or 9 hours, then they are not paying you for your half hour or hour lunch. I assume if you are an airline attendant then that means you can go sit in the galley during that time and not respond to the passengers.

you may be required as an employee to schedule your breaks around reasonable operational requirements - i.e. can’t all take off at once and leave the store empty.

In thoroughly social-democratic, union heaven Norway my job was 37.5 hours a week with 8 hour workdays, unpaid lunch. Was that unfair to me? Only if there had been someone doing the same job, for the same hourly pay, but being paid for 40 hours. Of course I wasn’t expected to work during lunch, but my point is one has to look at more than just “do you get lunch paid”.

I do not consider it as unfair. But people need to eat. It would have been gracious to consider that as part of the work day. So, be at work for 40 hours and get paid for 40 hours. : )
I would not dream of not paying the handyman who was working on my plumbing for the time he took to drink coffee and eat a sandwich.
That was my drift. 30 min is a fraction of an 8 hour workday.
I’ve heard from older colleagues that the 40 hour work/ 37.5 pay with unpaid lunch was something that always came in the 1980s union negotiations and often caused friction.
That was why I wondered in the OP whether it was a result of union negotiations with stingy employers over the years.

A lot of that goes out the window with exempt (i.e. salaried) employees.

We’re nominally paid for a 8 hour day/40 hour week, but since we’re “exempt”, that’s just a polite fiction for accounting purposes. Work days and work weeks can vary according to what’s required from the job- sometimes it’s 12 hour days, sometimes it’s 5 hour days if you have a doctor’s appointment or something like that. The expectation is generally that you get your job done, regardless of whatever else you’ve got going on, so taking a long lunch, or going to some kind of professional breakfast is just fine as long as it’s not interfering with getting your job done. If you have to stay late to do that because you took an hour in the morning to go to the breakfast, so be it. But you don’t necessarily have to, if you can get your stuff done without it.

Many employers abuse this in various ways- some (typically ones with a large blue collar workforce) tend to be more hour-oriented than purely white-collar outfits, and are concerned with how many hours you work. Others are more likely to basically take advantage of that “get the job done” caveat, and overload their exempt workers, with the expectation that they’ll work what amounts to unpaid overtime regularly to get the job done.

The convention everywhere I’ve ever worked is that lunch is a full hour, and generally at 12-1, but can start anywhere between 10:30 and 2, depending on what you’ve got going in your job. Sometimes though, you end up working through lunch, or getting something and eating it at your desk.

Same here. It’s not strictly enforced in terms of when you take your lunch or for how long. Nevertheless, if I am eating my lunch, I’ll just tell the office that I am currently on my “mandated, unpaid 30 minute lunch break”. As far as I’m concerned, being unpaid is tantamount to not being here. If I could get to the moon and back within that 30 minute framework, I would feel fully entitled to do so.

That’s at least somewhat incorrect - as is your characterization of it as “40 hour work/ 37.5 pay” if you are only working for 37.5 hours and you are paid for 37.5 hours you are being paid for exactly the hours you work, which is the most common situation for hourly employees. It definitely existed before the '80s , it was the practice in the non-union jobs I had in the '70s and '80s and no union would advocate for an unpaid half-hour lunch unless the alternative was no real lunch break at all ( in that you might be able to eat while you were working, but there was no actual break)

I am kind of wondering about “paying the handyman who was working on my plumbing for the time he took to drink coffee and eat a sandwich.” When I hire someone to work on my house, I am paying them a set price for the job. I’m not saying I set the price - typically they do. But it’s not an hourly rate- it’s a rate for the job. So it’s inaccurate to say that I either am paying them for lunch or not paying them for lunch - I’m paying $X dollars for the job and the person I hire should have taken into account how long the job will take when setting their price.

New York requires a break – a minimum of 45 minutes, though it can be broken up into 30 and 15 minutes (30 minutes for lunch and a second break).

It depends on the employer. General Electric had one-hour lunch break, but you worked from eight to five, so you ended up with a 40-hour week.

AFAIK the standard take on pay for salaried employees is that your monthly or (bi)weekly salary is based on assumption of a 40-hour work week (or that 37.5…). This allows calculation of an hourly rate for overtime purposes. Required work in excess of 40 hours is considered overtime paid at time and a half. If you choose to rearrange your time, that’s your problem - the employer did not ask, so time and a half is not applicable. Some employers, especially as noted with jobs that are so adaptable, work as flex time - I’ll stay late this Monday for two hours and leave two hours early on Friday (or use that to accommodate my Tuesday doctor’s appointment. Some employers formalize this into a “time bank” but limit the amount they “owe”.

I don’t know of any employers that did not pay the mandatory 15-minute breaks…

I have heard of employers that also allow a “personal leave” time (say 5 days a year, or 40 hours) in addition to vacation, that can be taken by the hour(s) for things like doctors’ appointments or special occasions. Sometimes this is part of or in addition to “sick time” allowances, but except for mandatory vacation allowances (usually 2 weeks a year, 3 weeks/yr after 5 years) all this is the employer’s discretion. Part time and irregularly scheduled employees, the employer will instead pay an additional 4% on each cheque as “vacation pay” to save recalculating or arguments over how many hours 2 weeks of pay works out to be…

However, flex time, time off during regular work (as well as vacation schedules) are always with the proviso that they do not interfere with the regular operation of the business - so the boss can overrule if necessary.

There are some employers that play tricks like piling on more than can be done in 40 hours, then saying “I never asked you to put in overtime…” But… playing fast and loose with employer standards is not a clever ploy in any province. I assume the difference in assorted states depends on the local rules. How abusive employers can be depends on the local employment market (Which is why incredibly desirable jobs like working for a big law firm or on Wall St. can demand 80-hour-plus weeks) Otherwise, this leads to high turnover and a lack of better applicants.

There’s also an exception for managers, and for certain “professional” categories, where the job responsibilities may call on the person 24-7.

That has NEVER been the case in any salaried job I’ve ever had. Overtime was just… overtime. You got paid the same every week regardless of how much you work- above or below the nominal 40 hours a week.

Some do “flex time”, but in my experience the majority just figure it’ll eventually net out over time, and don’t worry about it- they may have some sort of rule like “If you’re going to be out more than 2.5 hours, take a half-day” or something like that, but if you have to leave an hour early to catch your kid’s game, nobody’s going to expect you to explicitly make up an hour of work as long as you’re getting your job done.

In fact, I’m not sure they really can do that; as I understand it, salaried people are paid by the week or maybe pay-period anyway, even if their employer’s accounting system tracks it by the hour.

Most of the handymen around here work on a per hour basis for small jobs.
Hence my comment : )

Everywhere I’ve ever worked, a 40 hour week was 8:00am to 5:00pm (or 9:00am to 6:00pm etc.) with one hour for lunch. Lunch never counted unless you were working through it (sitting at the computer working while also eating). In which case, take off an hour early that day, or rack up that extra hour Monday-Thursday and take off Friday afternoon.

I think most posters used far too many words to answer this. The simple answer is that being AT work is not the same thing as WORKING.

If one wants to know which situations count as “working through lunch” and which count as “being at work but not working”, then the many posters have given great examples. But the first step is to know that there is a difference.

That’s only part of it, though. The other part is that some workers are not required, or even expected, to be AT WORK during their lunch breaks, but others are.