Can My Employer Control What I Do on My Lunch Break?
July 31, 2018
Jennifer Vorih, Esq. and Tyiarah Adewakun
As a New Jersey employee, you may look forward to your lunch break as a time to do what you want for a few minutes, without your employer telling you what to do. However, if you work at a Taco Bell in California, your employer may be able to control what you do on break by preventing you from leaving your workplace for your lunch break. In a recent decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld Taco Bell’s policy which prohibits employees from leaving their workplace if they use their employee discount to purchase Taco Bell for lunch. The policy was initially implemented to prevent employees from using their employee discount to buy food which they would take off the premises and share with family and friends. The policy did not apply to employees who either brought their own lunch or paid full price for their lunch purchased from Taco Bell. The affected employees filed a class action lawsuit against Taco Bell and argued that they were entitled to wages for their lunch breaks since they were required to stay at work. Taco Bell defended their policy by demonstrating that employees were relieved of all work duties during their lunch breaks, even if they were required to stay on the premises. The Ninth Circuit agreed, finding that Taco Bell’s policy did not violate California law.
While many employees may feel that this policy places unfair limitations on employee lunch breaks, they fail to realize that federal law does not entitle employees to a lunch break. There currently is no federal law that requires an employer to provide an employee with any type of break. Some state laws may require employers to provide employees with breaks, but these laws vary from state to state.
Under New Jersey law, employers are only required to provide employees under the age of 18 with a 30-minute break after 5 consecutive hours of work. New Jersey law does not require employers to provide any type of breaks for employees who are 18 years of age and older. However, if a New Jersey employer does decide to provide its employees with breaks, there are regulations that must be followed in order to comply with federal laws. Specifically, if an employer permits a rest break that lasts 20 minutes or less, the employer is required to pay the employee for that time. If the employer grants the employee with a lunch break that lasts 30 minutes or more, the employer is not required to pay the employee for that time.
It is not clear whether a New Jersey employer can control what you do, or where you go on your lunch break, but an employer can control whether or not you get a lunch break or any other breaks at all. If your employer does provide you with breaks, it is important to be aware of how long these breaks are. To reiterate, if your employer grants you a break of 20 minutes or less, this time must be paid; however, if the break is 30 minutes or more your employer does not have to pay you for that time. If you are unsure about whether or not you are entitled to a break or whether or not you are entitled to paid breaks you may want to consult an employment attorney for clarification.
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