Boss can legally curtail break time, unless you have contract, but not lunchtime

Can They Do That?

Your Money

December 12, 2004|By Carrie Mason-Draffen

I've worked at my current company for 15 years. For most of those years, the owner gave us a half-hour for lunch and two 15-minute breaks.

A few months ago, she decided to give just an hour lunch with no breaks, then changed her mind again and decided to give us just a half-hour lunch and no other breaks.

I have never heard of such abrupt changes in break times. I know by law that she doesn't have to give breaks. But can she arbitrarily roll back a practice we're so used to?

Yes, she can legally do that. As you rightly pointed out, by law she has to give you a lunch break but no other breaks beyond that unless a contract requires her to do so.

But even though owners or managers can force abrupt cultural changes on employees, that doesn't make their decisions right.

It is not always about "what is legal but what is the right thing to do," said Paul A. Munoz, president of HR Group Inc., a Plainview, N.Y., consulting firm. "People need a distraction now and then, and breaks provide that distraction, particularly if the employee sits in front of a computer all day."

You don't have to settle for going breakless for long stretches, however. Munoz suggests you meet with your employer to get information on what led to her decision. You may learn the changes resulted from others taking advantage of break time, he said. If that turns out to be the case, suggest ways to prevent the abuse.

"This discussion should not be confrontational but a request for information to understand the reasons behind the decision," he said.

"Employment is a partnership between the employer and the employee," Munoz said.

Carrie Mason-Draffen is a columnist for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. E-mail her at yourmoney @tribune.com.

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