Monday, June 21, 2010

It Bears Repeating--Let's Have A Lunch Break

Today I want to repeat a blog I did on May 3, 2010.  It is about something that has bothered me for a long time. And that is the fact that the United States has no federal law that requires employees to receive a meal period. There are states that do require a meal period. Check the link for a list from the DOL’s state laws page. Less than half or 20 out of 50 states plus DC require a meal period. That means that while employees in California, Nevada, Massachusetts or Rhode Island for example are entitled to take time to eat, employees in Mississippi, Florida or Georgia must rely on the kindness or good will of their employer to eat a meal.

That is why my question today is simple: Why is there no law under the federal rules to require an employee to receive a lunch break? It’s not necessary is one argument I hear constantly. No employees would work for a company that didn’t give them a lunch. I actually had that discussion during lunch at the International Association for Human Resource Information Management Exposition. The HR professionals all agreed to that premise. Maybe in good times when jobs are plentiful, but what about these economic times? Or in low pay jobs?

Another argument against regulating lunch is that it is such a common practice in most cases so there’s no reason to have to legislate it. But is it common practice or common myth? If you follow the DOL on their audit information they release or court cases you know that failure to pay employees when they have worked through a lunch is actually quite common. In other words employers illegally dock employees for lunch when they haven’t taken it so what makes anyone think that they are offering lunches to everyone when not required to.

I am not asking for a paid lunch. But simply require that all employees within the United States regardless of the area of the country they live in deserve and are entitled to 30 minutes to eat lunch during the course of the work day. This wouldn’t be that hard. Other industrial nations offer it. 20 states offer it. And unlike the minimum wage that is actually based on the economics of the area where the employee works eating lunch is not. I totally agree that the cost of living in Kansas may be lower than in California so each state should be free to set a higher or lower minimum wage than the other. But the need to take time to eat food during the course of an eight hour day is not decided by geographical location.

Maybe payroll professionals should rise up and start the “Let’s Have Lunch” movement to make the law universal to all employees in all states. It certainly would make our job easier if the laws were more streamline. That’s my thought for today on wage and hour law…what do you think?

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