Mar 6, 2024

Is It Legal When You Have To Work Through Lunch?

Plate and fork emoji on computer keyboard

Many workers value the 30-minute or hour-long reprieve from their day when they can sit down and eat on a lunch break. Maybe it’s social media-checking time; maybe it’s time for checking in with family; maybe it’s time to read a book; or maybe it’s time simply to eat and relax. 

However, sometimes workers find themselves working through lunch to get stuff done even with their lunch time being deducted. Under most circumstances, if your employer is automatically deducting a lunch break which you are not receiving or taking, that is illegal. 

If you’re required to work through your lunch break, or eat while working, there’s a chance you might not be getting paid properly. Even more, your boss might be breaking the law. 

While federal law doesn’t require that you have a lunch break, some states’ laws do require them. (Make sure to check your individual state laws to see whether your rights may be violated or you may be missing out on pay.) 

Under federal law, during a lunch break, you’re supposed to be fully relieved of any work duties: that’s why lunch breaks can be unpaid. However, if you are performing work during a lunch break, and your supervisors or bosses are aware that you are working through lunch, then you should be paid for that time.  

If your contract stipulates that you receive a lunch break, on that break, you should complete no work. If you’re working during lunch and you’re paid hourly, you should be paid for that working time. 

If you’re often made to work during your unpaid lunch break, you may be owed compensation. And the longer you’ve worked at that workplace, the more compensation you’ll be owed. Someone who makes $15/hour would lose $75 a week if their lunch break isn’t paid; in a year, that could add up to an additional $3,900 that you should have been paid.