Can I be forced to take a meal break?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Can I be forced to take a meal break?

I started working part time in November 2013, 5 hours a day, 5 days a week. By December of 2015 I was working over 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, in order to get health benefits. But I did not take a meal break, which is my choice. I don’t eat until I get home I work from 5am until I leave which as changed as time as gone on. I can’t see taking a meal break and doing nothing for a half hour, I’d rather work. This had not been a problem until recently when one of my coworkers complained to everybody, including HR. My two previous supervisors were aware that I didn’t take a meal break and, of course, HR/Payroll was aware as they see the checks and timesheets. My job doesn’t require me to leave at a certain time, I have left when my work was done. The employee guidelines indicates that a meal break is ‘expected’, but does not say it is mandatory. I had gotten to where I was working 8 hours a day, but I have cut back down to 6. I feel that the company had allowed me to work through my break for 3 1/2 years and just because someone complained that should not change. What can I do?

Asked on July 2, 2019 under Employment Labor Law, Massachusetts


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Your employer may have been accommodating you, but they were actually breaking the law: MA law requires that an employee working more than 6 hours must get a half hour unpaid meal break. Once someone complained, and so it became possible that a complaint would be made to the department of labor, your employer had to start complying with the law.

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