Help Wanted: Long workdays, forced lunches

By requiring you to take lunch after a

By requiring you to take lunch after a certain number of work hours, your company is complying with New York state labor laws. (Credit: iStock)

Carrie Mason-Draffen

Newsday columnist Carrie Mason Draffen Carrie Mason-Draffen

Mason-Draffen, a business reporter, writes a column about workplace issues.

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DEAR CARRIE: My husband works as a salaried manager for an international shipping company, and I was wondering what the labor laws are regarding how many hours a company can require him to work in a day or in a week. I understand he is exempt from receiving overtime pay. But it's the hours that concern me. He worked more than 20 hours in a single day during the holidays. His defense is that as a manager he has no choice. But I, as a spouse and basically a single parent to three small children, say this is abusive. Can you give us some advice please?  -- Fed Up

DEAR FED UP: Labor laws won't provide him, and by extension you, much relief.

They don't generally limit the number of hours that employees work except in a few industries like factories, retail establishments and some hotels. And even then the law just guarantees those workers a 24-hour rest period each week. But your husband wouldn't even qualify for that limited relief because laws requiring a day of rest don't generally cover managers, the state Labor Department said.

Though you said he was exempt from overtime, it's worth mentioning that managers qualify for overtime under New York State Labor laws if they make no more than $543.75 a week.

While labor laws might not offer him a respite from the long work days, changing his work habits might.

Here are some suggestions from Rita Maniscalco, a career, life and business coach in Huntington and a past president of the Long Island Coaching Alliance:

Save some simple tasks for later. "In many cases, paperwork, phone calls, and computer work can be done at home," Maniscalco said.

Delegate some responsibilities.

Work smarter. "Take a close look at how time at work is being spent and improve time management," she said.

If all else fails, ask for extra help. "If the job is truly too much for one person, the salaried manager may have to approach upper management for more help."

DEAR CARRIE: I recently began a new job. I work seven hours and would prefer to skip lunch and leave after my seven hours. But the manager insists that I take a lunch hour. This seems ridiculous to me because I am not getting paid for it. I am always willing to forfeit a lunch break so my day doesn't drag on for eight hours. Can I be forced to take lunch? -- Forced Lunch

DEAR FORCED: The short answer is "Yes." In fact, by requiring you to take lunch, your company is complying with state labor laws.

Those regulations require employers to give employees who work more than six hours a day at least a half-hour, uninterrupted meal break. And the state Labor Department insists that companies give employees the time. The regulations even specify when that break should take place. If you start work before 11 a.m. and your shift continues past 2 p.m., your meal period should fall between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Employers can even make the meal break longer, as your hourlong lunch period shows, because the regulations say "at least" a half-hour long. And as you mentioned, the break is unpaid. But that assumes that you don't do any work during the break. And there's the rub. If you don't take a lunch break and end up doing some work during that time, you will cost your company more in wages or put it at risk for a meal violation.

About the only time your company could justify not giving you a meal break is if you were the only person on duty with no one to relieve you. Otherwise, you have to do lunch. It's the law.

For more on the state's day-of-rest regulations and for more on meal-break statutes, go to http://bit.ly/11CMa9u