Human Resources Question About Employee’s Lunch Hour

 In Blog Post, Human Resources

Thanks to those of you that bought our book, Small Business Human Resource Secrets, and helped us get to Best Seller status! small business human resources secrets best seller

Because of my human resources experience, and the work that went into that book, we occassionally receive human resource questions from our small business clients. One business owner asked us this question:

Q: What are your thoughts on giving an employee an hour for lunch, which they take out of the office, but when they come back they have their uneaten lunch in tow and eat it at their desk while working?

Below are the variables we asked her to consider before deciding on her course of action.

Employees, unlike owners, typically only get a 1 hour break, ,if that. Sometimes an employee needs to run multiple errands during that one break. This may mean only having time to pick up something to eat that they can then eat at their desk while they work the rest of their shift.

This specific employee actually works in her own office, with a door, not in a bullpen. Our recommendation would have been different if there were clients in the office or the food had a strong odor.

Have you ever had a similar situation?

How did you handle it?

What would you recommend to our client?

Wondering what we advised?

Here’s what we learned during the course of a conversation:

The business owners ate at their desks, too. So here’s what we suggested:

Business owners now eat in the conference room, with a Do Not Disturb sign on the door.

Their employee now sometimes joins them.

Sometimes she eats when she takes her break. Sometimes she eats at her desk with the door closed and a Do Not Distrube sign hanging.

No one ever eats when there are clients in the office, unless everyone is offered a snack.

How does your office handle these types of issues?

Do you have a human resources question?

Please schedule a call with us at

We look forward to helping you in every way we can!

Recommended Posts
Showing 2 comments
  • Steve Bayles

    Good post and topic!
    I’d like to know more about what employers can and can’t do as far as during employees meal period and when they are being given a free lunch.
    Is the employer required to pay the employee’s time during the lunch period if…. 1) The boss is taking the person out to lunch and the talk is all business? 2) an office lunch and learn.
    Also, I’m in California and the laws are different that other states, do you know the rules here?
    Thank you!
    Peace, Love & BBQ,
    Steve Bayles

    • Sharyn Yuloff

      Thanks for writing in, Steve!
      If you were a private coaching client, I would tell you that for the 2 scenarios you mention, my understanding is that yes, you are required to pay them for lunch since they are still “on the clock.”
      Unless they clock out, go off premises, and are free to do what they please with their pesonal time, then clock back in when they return to work.
      If you’d like to discuss this further, please schedule a time for us to chat at
      Oh, and yes, as you will read in the book, most of my HR experience is from California.
      Since CA is a very employee-friendly state, if you go by their laws, you are probably safe elsewhere (though you should always check your local laws).
      ~ Sharyn ~