Our modern culture certainly has a mindset that being busier is better. From the amount homework given children to balancing student athletics to the working professional, no one seems to think that they have time to accomplish what they want to do in a given day. We are just fitting in the basics…but sometimes not even that! Lunch hour, what used to be an anticipated staple among workers, is sometimes not even taken. According to a survey conducted by Right Management, a HR consulting firm, 65% of workers eat at their desks or not at all during the work day.

lunch breaksFederal law does not actually require employees to be given lunch or rest breaks. Less than half of the states do require that employees receive at least 30-minute lunch breaks if you work more than 5 hours at a time. Employers are not forced to let employees leave the work premises during lunch breaks, but the break is defined as a time when one is completely freed from work duties during the stated time. The requirements for lunch breaks are sometimes different for minors working. Your State Labor Office contains information specific for your state. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) also offer guidance on employee rights’ rules.

There is a liability placed upon employers if the lunch break is not taken by employees, as well, as seen in the Murphy v. Kenneth Cole case heard at the California Supreme Court. For instance, if an employee works through the lunch break, even without permission from the employer, s/he must be paid. In addition, if an employee refused to take breaks, the employer can also be held liable. However, employees that refuse to take breaks can be disciplined by the employer.

If your employer refuses to grant you a break for lunch, you can request pay for an additional hour of pay for every time the lunch break was not given to you. If your employer retaliates against you by treating you unfairly or firing you after you request a lunch break, the law protects you. There are books that can help guide you through the process of action to take if you are not receiving your rights (Your Rights in the Workplace: An Employee’s Guide to Fair Treatment, by Barbara Repa, J.D., is one source) or labor lawyers that can also be consulted.

While it may be easy for an employer to think that any minutes not working equate to less profit for the company, this is actually not seen to be the case. Eating away from your desk leads to eating healthier meals, less calories throughout the day, and less snacks compared to eating and working at your desk. Dining with other employees can provide collaboration opportunities as well as rejuvenate you mentally. Another study in the Academy of Management Journal found more burn out and less productivity in employees who worked through lunch. In general, morale is higher when lunch breaks are taken, which benefits both the employee and employer.