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Company Policy and Req Unpaid Lunch in Alabama

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  • Company Policy and Req Unpaid Lunch in Alabama

    I've been trying to find some info for a few days now on this matter and would like some feedback if possible.

    The company I work for requires a 30 min unpaid lunch for all employees who work at least 6 hours in a shift. They also provide 15 min paid breaks each 4 hours.

    Company policy in the handbook states that you are not allowed to leave company property on paid breaks... fair enough. During your req unpaid lunch you may leave store property and spend your lunch as you'd like as long as you return in 30 mins. However... for overnight crews they have started enforcing a new policy "for our safety". Once you get there at 10pm they lock the doors and set the alarm. You are then locked in until they let you out at 6:30am even during a mandantory 30min UNPAID lunch.

    So... Can a company force you to take an uncompensated lunch and confine you to premises with no means of purchasing food for yourself?

    It seems to me that whether the true reason for this new policy is a safety (liability) issue or one of loss prevention, there is a point at which a company's self-interest infringes on the personal rights of the employee. Technically, if you aren't being paid doesn't that mean you aren't at work?

    Any help...
    Last edited by castlespire; 10-30-2007, 01:15 PM. Reason: Typos

  • #2
    Originally posted by castlespire View Post
    So... Can a company force you to take an uncompensated lunch and confine you to premises with no means of purchasing food for yourself?
    There are a few states (Masschusetts comes to mind) that specifically state that an employee on a lunch break must be allowed to leave the premises if the time is not paid.

    I seriously doubt Alabama has laws like that, so there is no employment law allowing you to leave even though you are not paid. Pack a lunch.
    Senior Professional in Human Resources and Certified Staffing Professional with over 30 years experience. Any advice provided is based upon experience and education, but does not constitute legal advice.

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    • #3
      Also explictly legal under federal law, so until/unless Alabama has a specific state law saying otherwise, it is also legal in AL.

      http://www.dol.gov/dol/allcfr/Title_...9CFR785.19.htm

      29 CFR 785.19 - Meal.
      (b) Where no permission to leave premises. It is not necessary that an employee be permitted to leave the premises if he is otherwise completely freed from duties during the meal period
      .
      "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away".
      Philip K. **** (1928-1982)

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      • #4
        Originally posted by DAW View Post
        Also explictly legal under federal law, so until/unless Alabama has a specific state law saying otherwise, it is also legal in AL.

        http://www.dol.gov/dol/allcfr/Title_...9CFR785.19.htm

        29 CFR 785.19 - Meal.
        (b) Where no permission to leave premises. It is not necessary that an employee be permitted to leave the premises if he is otherwise completely freed from duties during the meal period
        .
        It is important to point out the phrase "completely freed from duties." A receptionist that is expected to answer calls during her lunch break is still working. A maintenance person, called to respond to some emergency 15 minutes into the unpaid lunch break needs to be paid for all 30 minutes.
        Senior Professional in Human Resources and Certified Staffing Professional with over 30 years experience. Any advice provided is based upon experience and education, but does not constitute legal advice.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by DAW View Post
          Also explictly legal under federal law, so until/unless Alabama has a specific state law saying otherwise, it is also legal in AL.

          http://www.dol.gov/dol/allcfr/Title_...9CFR785.19.htm

          29 CFR 785.19 - Meal.
          (b) Where no permission to leave premises. It is not necessary that an employee be permitted to leave the premises if he is otherwise completely freed from duties during the meal period
          .
          As I read the contents of that link I do not believe that it ever specified whether the meal period was one that was paid or unpaid. I have worked a few places where the company offered paid lunches.

          It seems to me that though this unpaid time is described as a meal period it is best defined as off-duty. Is this faulty reasoning?

          http://www.dol.gov/dol/allcfr/Title_...9CFR785.16.htm

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          • #6
            Originally posted by castlespire View Post
            It seems to me that though this unpaid time is described as a meal period it is best defined as off-duty. Is this faulty reasoning?
            I think that federal DOL issued a very specific regulation on the handling of meals that very specifically says that assuming certain conditions are meet that employers are not required to let their employees leave the premises for lunch. I think that it is a stretch to say that a general regulation on Off Duty which does not actually mention Meals somehow overrides the Meals regulations. You are welcome to try the argument of course, but I am afraid that I am skeptical of your chances.
            "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away".
            Philip K. **** (1928-1982)

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            • #7
              You are very probably right. You did mention MA specifically having a law against this situation. Is there anyway for me to find out which other states have such laws? Since the company I work for has stores in MA as well I would like to find out its policy and procedures in these states.

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              • #8
                Actually Scott mentioned that.
                "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away".
                Philip K. **** (1928-1982)

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                • #9
                  I think New Jersey requires the meal period be paid if the employee is not allowed to leave the premises. If you have operations there, you might want to check that out with the NJ DOL.
                  I don't respond to Private Messages unless the moderator specifically refers you to me for that purpose. Thank you.

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                  • #10
                    If MA has such a law, I'm not aware of it. Since I've never worked for anyone who refused to allow employees to leave the premises, it might just be that it never came up, but I've been working in MA since 1983 - you'd think SOMEONE would have mentioned it.
                    The above answer, whatever it is, assumes that no legally binding and enforceable contract or CBA says otherwise. If it does, then the terms of the contract or CBA apply.

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