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

I had a friend who worked as a receiving clerk at a large grocery chain. He soon learned that if he ate his lunch in the employee break room the managers thought nothing of coming in and asking him questions or expecting him to take care of something while on his unpaid lunch break. So he started going outside the building for his lunch break, which was allowed under union rules. He would set a timer on his watch to make sure that he didn’t take more than his allotted time.

So one day he was heading out for lunch and a manager stopped him to ask a question. Before answering, he made a point of seeing the manager stopping the timer on his watch. “I’m not on my lunch break if I’m discussing work,” he explained. The manager looked like he wanted to say something about it, then realized that he wasn’t going to get away with trying to get my friend to “work” during his lunch break. It was the last time he tried to do that. At least to my friend; I suspect this was a common thing for him when employees didn’t eat lunch in the break room.

Until the HR VP stated if we had started our lunch them we were not to stop our lunch even for emergencies If my lunch I had a simular plan as LurkMeister’s friend. I was entitled to a 30 minute lunch break. That is 30 complete minutes of my time. So if someone interupted my lunch before my 30 minutes was up that just restarted the

And the laws against wage theft are almost completely unenforced, so lots of people are in fact WORKING for 40 hours, of which they only get paid for 37.5, with no easy way to claim back the ~3 weeks of pay they have stolen from them each year (assuming they even know it’s illegal).

In my last two jobs I have had union-negotiated contracts. In the first one our work week was 37.5 hours. We were not paid for lunch, but our full work day was 8 hours. After that 8 hours, we were due overtime.

In the second job, our work day is officially 8.5 hours but we are paid for 8. The unwritten rule is that we take 1 hour for lunch even though on paper it’s half an hour. The way our building etc. is laid out there is no practical way you could have lunch at the cafeteria or off premises in half an hour.

The laws are enforceable. Go to the local labor board and file a complaint. The problem comes that the employer may terminate a employee who files a claim. But said employee will get his back pay. But if the employer is requiring you to stay on property, then the employee is still on the clock and entitled to pay.

Nope, according to Federal law :

(b) Where no permission to leave premises. It is not necessary that an employee be permitted to leave the premises if he is otherwise completely freed from duties during the meal period.

I don’t think this can happen now, but maybe I only think that because I’ve been living and working in more worker friendly states for 20+ years.

My wife worked for a regional retail chain (name still exists but has gone through bankruptcy several times so may not be the same legal entity) in 1993 just after graduating from college. She was classified as a “management trainee” with a salary of 19,500 a year.

She was stocking shelves, running a cash register and sweeping floors (and other similarly non-managerial tasks) for over 100 hours a week. She was to report to work at 6:30am and there was no fixed quitting time. Often she was working until midnight. There were four, five or six “management trainees” assigned to each store dnd it was apparent to her that their function was to cover the work that couldn’t be done by the hours “allowed” for hourly employees.

She quit after six weeks. She had been told this is a rotation program as an entryway into the corporate office, but that seemed to be an empty promise. At best she was looking at working a retail management job with ungodly hours after “graduating” from the traineeship.

Some years later she was notified of a lawsuit by the state DoL. She got a settlement check, which was disappointingly small, to put it mildly.

The federal minimum wage was $4.25 an hour. Her nominal hourly rate was $9.375 per hour (based on the 40 hour workweek and $19500 annual salary in her offer letter). She expected to get paid for all the hours worked over 40 for six weeks at $9.375 an hour. So at least a couple thousand dollars. What she actually got was pay for 540 hours (six weeks at estimated 90 hours a week) at $4.25 an hour, less the $9.375 X 40 X 6 she already got paid.

Effectively they calculated that if she was working 90 hours a week for $375 a week she was getting paid $4.17 an hour. So all she was owed was the difference between $4.27 and $4.25. The check was for $25.

I figured she’d at least get overtime rates for the hours over 40, but in their infinite wisdom the state DoL settled the case as described.

Theoretically they could have pursued a federal claim, but there was no way to organize this (in the pre-internet era) into a group large enough to make it worthwhile. Labor lawyer who gave her a free consultation did not seem interested.

Sad story about how your wife’s case was mishandled. She should’ve gotten more, but most people in such cases don’t get anything.

I admire your effort to avoid besmirching the current legal entity who owns that chain. But it seems to me that when one company buys another, and they also purchase the rights to the name, then they have implicitly also purchased the rights to the store’s reputation. Usually that’s a big plus, in terms of brand recognition and such, but in your case, I think the new owner has also purchased the not-so-nice parts of that store’s reputation as well. It’s a package deal. In other words, I don’t think it was necessary to withhold the store’s name.

On the other hand, if you think the new owners are trying to clean up their act, and improve upon what the previous scum had done, that is an excellent reason to avoid sullying their reputation.

Partly I am doing this to avoid doxxing myself.

That too is an excellent reason!

I know I do. There is just not enough staff to cover lunch breaks. So we either eat at our desks or forget about lunch altogether.
Covid decimated our business which was really not doing well ever since its inception. I am too old to jump ship, so I suck it up and go to work everyday.
Pros : 4 weeks vacation and it is 6 minutes drive from home. Pretty casual workplace atmosphere.
No meetings or targets.
We also have a pretty good benefits package.
Cons: The feeling of being on a slippery slope all the time and pay ch to pay ch existence.

My HR dept. at work requires hourly employees to take at least a half hour lunch break, an hour if we want, all unpaid, even if we would rather not. And our other breaks each couple hours need to be a step away from the desk break but those are included in our time paid. They are very adamant about us taking our lunch and other breaks.

The reason is that some companies have been sued by former, disgruntled, employees, and have had to pay out large sums of money. “I always showed up and started early, I worked through lunch and my breaks, I stayed late on unpaid overtime, and you fired me!” Then later the company has to pay out money for all this unworked time. That is why some companies are so picky about these things for hourly workers.

I work a graveyard shift, alone, in a situation where I cannot leave and cannot even step away from my work area for breaks. There is plenty of time for breaks, hell most of the night I do very little of anything so it is not a problem. But you can be certain that HR has on file the form that I voluntarily signed waiving my breaks so that the company is absolved of any liability.

Time cards are billed out in increments of 1/10 of an hour, or every 6 minutes. Once I work 1 minute into the next 6 minute interval they have to pay me for the full 6. So the boss does not keep chatting and holding me up after work. HR is so picky that you would think that this time tracking is the primary goal of the business, but it is all about covering the company’s ass.

Lawyers putting out ads for people to join lawsuits has become a way of law enforcement , and I have seen a few companies take a lot more notice of the FLSA ( fair labor standards act) which is probably why quite a few people have commented on VP or HR insisting the breaks are taken uninterrupted.

The other one that was frequently abused was the take that if you call someone a manager therefore they are exempt. However there is a few things that have to be in place , or tests, to see if someone is exempt. See link below but for management exemptions you have to be earning over 35k and have hire and fire authority or have a significant say. See the pdf link below
There are a few jobs that have deviations from the flsa such as airline s seasonal work etc.

One thing that may cause confusion is that in canada the hourly and salary thing is a bit different. We had a manufacturing and engineering plant ,
Every one was on salary but the floor workers were effectively on hourly and were paid overtime, even though they were on salary .


Also for overtime the management has to control the hours worked and have to explicitly state the work must stop so they must exercise control and see that work is not performed if the employer does not want it to be performed.
That is to stop the management from implying OT needs to be done but then saying ‘well we didnt ask them to do it’ and you may find some employers are very insistent that once your hours are up you are offsite ASAP.

I wonder if the 6 minute increment is related to rounding hours worked to the nearest 1/4 hour.
The employee can round down time worked for 1-7 minutes, but over 8 minutes and it has to be rounded up to a 1/4 hour. Maybe some bright spark in HR or accounting was worried they might pay someone for an extra 7 minutes they didn’t work by rounding up, so they have everyone spend an extra 1/2 a n hour on time administration to maybe save 8 minutes.

Probably not , because employers are not required to round time to the nearest quarter hour - they are permitted to, and they can’t round to a larger increment (such as a half hour) but they can use a smaller increment - there’s no reason that an employer would have to pay for the whole six minute increment if the person worked one minute of it. I’m sure they did - but it was a company policy, not required by law. Six minute increments round in three minute intervals and they wouldn’t have to pay for the six minute period until the employee worked at least three minutes of it. Many years ago , I had a job where the timeclock divided an hour into 100 parts, so that punching in at 4:30 pm showed up on the timecard as 16:50. They didn’t round the punches, so if you punched in at 16:50 and left at 23:55 you were paid for 7.05 hours. I don’t see how calculating that would take any more time than rounding would - in fact, it might take less.

It depends on how the employer is recording and paying for time worked. If they are paying by the 1/4 hour, or by 1 tenth of an hour. that is if you work 7 hours and 50 minutes will your check and time card show 7 3/4 hours or 7.8 hours.
If by the 1/4 hour then if you work less than 7 minutes they can round down, 8 or more then they are required to round up.
If by the tenth of an hour 4 or more minutes should be rounded up to 0.1 hours, 3 or less minutes can be rounded down.