If we feed employees, do we have to pay them for working through lunch?

Q. Occasionally, when we receive a big order, our nonexempt employees are required to work through their lunch breaks. Although we do not pay them for this work, we buy delicious lunches for all the affected workers. Is this lawful?

A. No. If nonexempt workers are required (or even allowed) to perform any job duties during their lunch breaks, they are entitled to compensation for the entire period. Providing the workers with lunch is not an adequate replacement for pay.

If nonexempt employees work during their lunch breaks, whether it is to attend a meeting or fulfill a big order, they are entitled to pay — even if the employer provides lunch.

These types of mistakes can be extremely expensive, resulting in judgment and settlements in the millions of dollars. This type of exposure has led many employers to prohibit workers from remaining in their work area while on break, thereby avoiding any question as to whether the nonexempt employees were working during their lunch periods.