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Company policy requires lunch on premises; ex-employee asks, is it legal?

A company may require employees to stay on

A company may require employees to stay on the premises for their lunch break, an employment attorney says. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/msderrick

DEAR CARRIE: I worked for a regional bank/credit union. While working at the company, I was continually denied the opportunity to leave the office for lunch because of a staffing shortage.  Many times the office would have just two people on staff for the day, making it impossible for anyone to leave.  I usually was allowed time to eat lunch uninterrupted because of the low volume of customers. But I was permitted to leave only when adequate staff was on hand, which was the exception, not the norm.  I could never go to the post office, shop for groceries or run other errands many normal people get done on their lunch hour.  Staff in other locations have experienced the same restrictions.  From what I have been able to research online, this practice doesn't seem legal.  Do my former co-workers have rights? Can the bank/credit union be subject to lawsuits from employees? -- Lunch With Rules

DEAR LUNCH: The answer unfortunately won't make your lunch go down any easier.

Though New York State law entitles you to at  least a 30-minute, uninterrupted meal break if you work more than six hours a day, your employer can restrict your mobility at that time, said a Manhattan employment lawyer.

"There is no requirement that the employee be permitted to leave the premises," said  Richard Kass of Bond, Schoeneck & King.  "An employer may require employees to stay on the premises during their lunch break."

And if you aren't just speaking figuratively and really have  a "lunch hour," then your employer is giving you more than the state mandates.

"In fact, it seems that this employer is more generous than the law requires," Kass said. "There is no right to a 'lunch hour'; all that is required is a lunch half-hour."

DEAR CARRIE: I have a question regarding workers' comp. I clocked out for my half-hour lunch. While at lunch, I fell by my house and sustained injuries bad enough to keep me at home for several days.  Should this be considered an absence under WC? -- Which Claim?

DEAR WHICH: I went straight to the state Workers Compensation Board for an answer. It's probably not a workers' comp case.

"Workers’ compensation benefits are for employees who are injured on the job,"  said a board spokesperson. "In general, injuries that occur during a lunch break off the employer’s premises are deemed to occur off the job and thus not eligible for workers’ compensation, except under very limited circumstances."

You should check with your company to see what your other options are for getting some pay for those missed days. 

DEAR CARRIE:  I was laid off from a contracting position  because funding for a project ended.

When am I eligible to submit my first unemployment claim? -- Newly Jobless

DEAR NEWLY:  I am glad for your question because it is important to submit your claim in a timely fashion. Here is what the state Labor Department's website says: 

"Promptly file your claim, in the first week that you lose your job. You must serve an unpaid waiting period, equal to one full week of unemployment benefits, before you receive payments. A delay in filing may cost you benefits."

If you will receive severance payments that will equal at least $450 a week, the current maximum weekly unemployment benefit, then you wouldn't be eligible to receive benefits for those weeks. Still, it is good to file for benefits as soon as you are able so that you are in the system when you qualify for them.    

Go to for more on workers' com regulations in New York State. 

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