Can My Employer Force Me To Take My Lunch Break?

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An AOL Jobs reader asks:

Don't know where to go, so maybe you can guide me to the correct direction. Don't know who can help me on this matter. I complained on many occasions that I wasn't able to take lunch because I got no help when others get help. My supervisor wants me to take my lunch, no matter if it's almost time to go home. When I address this issue he says I always have a problem. Lasttime he yelled at me in front of all my co workers and another supervisor.

Can your supervisor require you to take your lunch break? The short answer is yes. However, whether it's legal to make you take your break at the end of the day may depend on what state you live in.

No federal law requires employers to allow any breaks at all other than for breastfeeding. Many states don't require breaks either. Employers may want you to take your breaks because they want to avoid paying overtime. Federal law lets employers decide if and when breaks will be given.State laws vary on break times. For instance, California requires your employer to give you a half hour break after 5 hours. If your employer gives you so much work that you can't take a break within that time, then says you have to take your break after 7 hours, they're probably breaking the law in California. Connecticut requires employers to give you half an hour after 2 hours and another half hour before your last 2 hours if you work 7 1/2 hours. Washington says they have to give you a half hour somewhere between your 2nd and 5th hour of work if your work period is more than 5 hours.

As you can see, the requirements vary quite a bit.

If you are given work that makes it impossible to take your break, I'd suggest notifying the supervisor as soon as you realize you can't take the break without help and ask for assistance. If they deny you assistance, then make sure you take your break before you leave so they can't accuse you of insubordination.

If others are given the opportunity to take lunch at a normal time and you are singled out for work overload, I'd also suggest looking around at who is being treated better than you. If they are all younger, or of a different race, sex, religion or national origin than you, you may be encountering discrimination. If that's what is happening, follow the policy in your handbook for reporting discrimination (probably to HR) and make sure you put the complaint in writing. Tell them how you are being treated differently than others of, say, a different national origin. Ask them to take prompt action to correct the situation. If they retaliate, you're legally protected if you can prove you reported discrimination.

Other reasons you might be singled out could be making a worker's compensation claim, taking Family and Medical Leave, blowing the whistle on illegal activity of the company, or taking actions to improve working conditions of your self and coworkers. If you think any of these are the reason you are being singled out, talk to an employment lawyer in your state about your rights.

If you need legal advice, it's best to talk to an employment lawyer in your state, but if you have general legal issues you want me to discuss publicly here, whether about discrimination, working conditions, employment contracts, medical leave, or other employment law issues, you can ask me at AOL Jobs.

Please note: Anything you write to me may be featured in one of my columns. I won't be able to respond individually to questions.
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