Meal breaks for part-timers in Massachusetts

Q: I am a part-time employee who works about 20 hours per week in an office. I work five days per week and I usually arrive at 10am and work until about 2:30pm. All of my colleagues leave for lunch around noon and return back at around 1pm. I do not get a lunch break even though I am there at noon. I have asked my supervisor several times because this seems unreasonable to me. At my last job, I was eligible for a lunch break. I would prefer to get an hour and work later. Can I request that?




A: In Massachusetts, there are laws which govern meal breaks within the workplace. Employees must receive a 30-minute meal break after working six continuous hours. During this meal break an employee should be able to leave the workplace. An employee can voluntarily decide to work through a meal break but then this period of time must be compensated. Meal breaks are most often unpaid. There are some exceptions to this meal break law but they are limited. The exceptions include employees working within certain industries where it would be difficult to disrupt a specific process like dyeing clothes or printing newspapers.

From what you have shared, it sounds like your regular schedule is less than six hours per day. You may have been hired to cover lunch breaks to enable your fellow employees to leave the workplace with minimal disruption to your employer’s office. You are probably not legally eligible for a meal break based on your current schedule. You can request a meal break but that does not mean your request will be honored. If you work longer days on occasion, you should be given a meal break if you are working more than six hours in a single work day.

For more information about how the meal break laws work in Massachusetts, visit http://www.mass.gov/ago/doing-business-in-massachusetts/labor-laws-and-public-construction/wage-and-hour/meal-breaks.html.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section. Click here to read about more employment topics in The Job Doc Blog at Boston.com.