Ask HR: Can Employees Shorten Their Lunch Breaks?

It seems like an age-old question: can employees decide what to do with their own lunch breaks? Are lunch breaks ever required? What are the laws around employee lunch breaks? What rights do employees have to determine their own? Does it matter whether the employee is hourly or salaried?

HR Support Center advisors answer real questions like this every day from real HR professionals. Each week, we share a sample of one of these questions. We hope the Q&A below will help clear up some of the confusion around lunch breaks.

Question:

One of our full-time, non-exempt employees who works in our Massachusetts office asked if she could take a 30-minute lunch break instead of the complete hour, while still working until her scheduled time of 5:00 pm. Is this possible?

Answer from Jessica, HR Pro:

As long as you are allowing your employees the minimum meal period required by the state, you can decide whether to allow this employee to shorten her meal time. Massachusetts, like many states that require meal breaks, has a 30-minute minimum requirement for the meal time.

Keep in mind that shortening her lunch break without adjusting the beginning or ending time of her shift may cause her to regularly work overtime. Many employers will allow employees to shorten their meal periods, but adjust their arrival or departure time so that the total work time stays the same. Employers who need coverage at both ends of an employee’s shift, however, may decide to require the hour-long lunch break even if it is not the employee’s preference.

Whichever way you decide, you should be consistent. If you allow a shortened meal period for this employee, it is best to allow it for employees in similar roles. The same goes for allowing or not allowing regular overtime hours.

Jessica, HR Pro *Jessica holds a Bachelor’s of Science (BS) in Communication and a Professional Certificate in Human Resources Management. She is active in many Human Resources organizations and regularly attends continuing education courses to stay abreast of changes that affect the workplace.*


This Q&A content is taken straight from the experts at HR Support Center. Click here to learn more about HR Support Center and HR On-Demand; we’d also love the chance to explain in person.

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