are becoming an epidemic. Lawyers file class-action lawsuits at the first hint that employees worked “off the clock,” either before the workday started or by working through parts of their unpaid lunch periods.
There’s a simple way to avoid problems: Instead of providing an unpaid lunch period, provide a 30-minute break that’s part of the day’s eight-hour work period. In other words, pay for the time.
That way, employees can’t come back later and claim they worked through their lunch periods and should be paid. Work or eat, it’s all the same when the time is paid time.
Recent case: John Millington sued his former employer after he lost his job, alleging he hadn’t been paid for some of the time he spent working. He had performed his job in the field, so it was difficult for the employer to account for all his actual time. Included in his tally were many hours he allegedly worked while on his 30-minute lunch break.
But the court tossed out his case when the employer explained all lunch periods were fully paid no matter what the employees did during lunch. Plus, the paid lunch counted toward the 40-hour workweek. (Millington v. Morrow County Board of Commissioners, No. 2:06-CV-347, SD OH, 2007)
Final note: Just saying no to overtime isn’t enough. If the employee worked overtime and your organization benefited from that work, you have to pay for it—whether or not you wanted him to work.
How should you handle “voluntary” overtime? You can and should discipline employees who work more hours than you authorize. Just don’t do it by withholding their pay for those extra hours.