HR Hotline: Can We Allow an Employee to Voluntarily Work Without a Lunch Break?

03.18.2016
HR & Safety

Q: An employee requested to work straight through the day without taking a lunch break. I thought Connecticut labor law mandated a meal break. Would we be violating the law if we granted her request?
A: Connecticut’s meal break law does not require that meal breaks are taken.

Call Mark Soycher at the HR Hotline: 860.244.1900.

HR problems? Call Mark Soycher at the HR Hotline: 860.244.1900.

The law prohibits requiring or compelling an employee to work for seven and a half or more consecutive hours without a period of at least thirty consecutive minutes for a meal, which may be unpaid break time. A scheduled break cannot be available only during the first or last two hours of work.
The law also allows the labor commissioner to grant an exemption from this, so an employer could refuse a meal break, where (1) requiring compliance would be adverse to public safety, (2) the duties of a position may only be performed by one employee, (3) the employer employs fewer than five employees on a shift at a single place of business, provided the exemption shall only apply to the employees on such shift, or (4) the continuous nature of an employer’s operations, such as chemical production or research experiments, requires that employees be available to respond to urgent or unusual conditions at all times and such employees are compensated for break and meal periods.
It is also permissible for an employer and employee to agree to a different schedule of meal periods than that required under this law, or no meal break at all, if the employee has 30 or more minutes of paid rest or meal time during the course of the day.

If an employee wanted to work without a break, “self-certifying” the arrangement should be sufficient.

As a practical matter, Labor Department staff is not interested in fielding requests for “exemptions,” but instead might only examine whether an exemption is applicable if an employee complained of being forced to work without a break.
If an employee wanted to work without a break, “self-certifying” the arrangement should be sufficient.
To protect against a worker later claiming he or she was improperly forced to work with no break, you should document the employee’s preference with a brief note confirming your approval of the request and reminding the employee that if he or she decides to take a break, you need to be informed, and it will be scheduled.
Finally, keep in mind that if you would prefer that your employee take a break—for example, to limit overtime, for better coverage for customer service, or to take a safety break to rest—you can decline her request and insist she take the break at whatever time you deem suitable.

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