In this article, I’ll discuss the topic of whether an employer is required to pay its employees for a lunch break under the federal wage and hour employment laws.
Let’s start off with a hypothetical situation. A group of non-exempt employees from a company regularly go out of town to work an entire day on a project. In the middle of the day, all the employees go to lunch together at a restaurant. The company pays for the lunch and they all sit together at a table. The project manager uses the lunch time to talk with the other employees about the work already completed in the morning and how they’ll coordinate the remaining work in the afternoon. The employees are paid by the hour, but the company does not pay the employees for this lunchtime.
The question is, should the employer pay for this lunch break? My first thought would be “an employer normally isn’t required to pay employees for a lunch break, so why should it make a difference if they’re out of town or not? And, it’s pretty gracious of the company to cover the meal since going to eat is about the only option.” I also see how the employees could consider it unfair. Sometimes, on my lunch break, I like to run errands, play with my dogs or go buy a new tie. If an employee is stuck at a restaurant, out of town with their employer, they aren’t free to do any of these things. Both of these thoughts aren’t necessarily wrong, but they aren’t headed in the right direction.