Meal Break for a Recent Grad

Q: I started a new job recently. I graduated from college in May, 2014. I want to make a good impression. During my interview, I was told that hard work, being flexible and having a good attitude was important. I am trying really hard to do all of this! I do question one thing though. Others get a lunch hour and are able to do an errand, eat lunch or make phone calls. I was told that I should spend my lunch hour covering for the receptionist. I eat my lunch at the front desk. I must bring my lunch since I don’t have the same flexibility as others. Sometimes I need to run quick errand or make a call. This doesn’t seem fair that others get lots of freedom and I don’t. What are your thoughts?

A: You have good instincts! Not only is this unfair but it sounds like it could be illegal. In Massachusetts, employers must provide a 30-minute meal break when an employee works six consecutive hours in a single shift. Assuming you are full-time and work six hours or more in single work day, you should be given a 30-minute meal break during your work day. The 30-minute meal break cannot be broken up into smaller chunks of time (e.g. two fifteen-minute breaks) and still comply with the law. An employee can voluntarily waive this meal break, but it sounds like you would like this meal break! In Massachusetts, employers can must allow employees to be free of handling work-related tasks and employees must be able to leave the work premises during this break. Also, the meal break can be unpaid since it is not time actually worked.

If my assumptions above are true, I would suggest talking to your supervisor. Explain that you are more than willing to help out covering the front desk, but that a meal break would give you a true break during the day. Hopefully your supervisor will understand. You can also explain that it is difficult seeing everyone else leave during the day when you don’t enjoy the same break. If your supervisor still seems resistant, I would suggest sharing that your understanding is that a 30-minute meal break is the law after working six hours.

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Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.