No rest for the weary
May 7, 2009 6:41 PM   Subscribe

How serious an offense is it when your employer refuses to give you a meal break?

I live in the state of Washington and have reviewed Washington Administrative Code Sections 296-126-002 and 296-126-092. Today a friend of mine told me that he was explicitly denied by his supervisor a meal break during a shift that lasted more than five hours (he not an agricultural worker).
I suggested he follow protocol and take it up the chain of command but he believes his supervisor's superiors will "close ranks" and only make life difficult for him.
What should he do and what are the consequences for breaking the law?

Additionally, several incidents of rudeness and public condescension which began suddenly last month make him suspicious that he has been outed as a homosexual.

He has not asked for my advice but I'd like him to know his options because he is ready to quit. Thanks.
posted by levijk to Law & Government (8 answers total)
What does he do for a living?
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:49 PM on May 7, 2009

Here is the Washington State DOL link for information.

I'm assuming he's not part of a union? He could call the Department of Labor and file a complaint.
posted by hazyspring at 7:04 PM on May 7, 2009

How serious? 296-126-226: Penalties:

The department shall investigate the complaint of any individual alleging that these standards have been violated. Any employer employing any person in violation of these standards shall upon conviction thereof be punished in accordance with RCW 49.12.170, which states as follows: "Any employer employing any person for whom a minimum wage or standards, conditions, and hours of labor have been specified, at less than said minimum wage, or under standards, or conditions of labor or at hours of labor prohibited by the rules and regulations of the committee; or violating any other of the provisions of this 1973 amendatory act, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall, upon conviction thereof, be punished by a fine of not less than twenty-five dollars nor more than one thousand dollars."
posted by zippy at 7:10 PM on May 7, 2009

Pre-empting a bad scene, based on your mention of several incidents of rudeness and public condescension:
He should keep a diary with a record of any incidents of bullying or vilification - in Australia, those are pretty serious offences for an emplyer or co-worker. If they are there too, he'll need to be able to cite days and examples of when he was bullied if the situation gets worse.
posted by lottie at 8:56 PM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

In WA if you work for four hours you get a fifteen minute break. At six hours you get aside from the previous fifteen minutes you get a half hour lunch. At eight hours aside from all previous time you get another fifteen minutes.

Did he work six hours? If not, then no bones. And really, how far would he want to press this? Is the job worth jumping through all the hoops for? Are they doing this to anyone else? Unless it's happening to more folks that also want to press it, your friend has a lot of money and knows good lawyers, or has high connections with people in the ACLU, then it's time to either eat shit or look for a new job.
posted by ZaneJ. at 9:31 PM on May 7, 2009

Thanks for all the responses; especially zippy for pinpointing the WAC I was looking for.

MaryDellamorte: He does maintenance at a place with the word "Christian" in it's name. It's why I mentioned the possible homophobia, though it's secondary.
hazyspring: My friend does not belong to a union.
lottie: thanks, I will advise him to keep records.
ZaneJ.: I don't remember the length of the shift, but yes, it was more than six. The job is low pay and that's why he's willing to simply quit without complaint, but another gay man has experienced rudeness from this same supervisor, though he did not say to what extent. It's also notable that his coworker is in another department. I agree that it would be useless to file a lawsuit. I was thinking more of a symbolic fine: $25 would be enough to satisfy me, though it might cost him a reference for his next job.

I feel the injustice more than he because I quit a job because of ongoing sexual harassment and lack of breaks. I did not complain and I regretted it.

I was able to locate the form in order to file a meal break complaint. Thanks everyone for the advice.
posted by levijk at 10:34 PM on May 7, 2009

Is there any legislation that speaks to 'hostile workplace'? I'm thinking the make life uncomfortable and he'll just go away type of hostile.
posted by x46 at 7:38 AM on May 8, 2009

levijk: Washington State does have non-discrimination clauses related to sexual orientation in their EOE laws.

They also have on their books that, if an employer makes life so miserable for an employee that s/he is compelled to leave the workplace, that may be regarded by the Labor & Industries board as a de facto firing for cases of collecting unemployment.

If your friend is having real problems, he needs to get one of those little pocket-sized notebooks and start noting EVERY incident which occurs complete with date and time of incident, along with a brief description of what took place. This should be noted even if it seems slight, as when proving a case like this, it will be broad patterns which matter, not a list of 2 or 3 isolated incidents.

I went through a horrible workplace bullying experience last year, and read a LOT about Washington State Labor Laws. IANAL, but your friend does have protected rights in this state, and should take steps to prove they are being violated NOW, in case it becomes a real issue in 6 months to a year.

And yes, it is illegal for workers to be denied a meal break in WA state if they are employees. Contractors, on the other hand, have few if any rights at all.
posted by hippybear at 8:02 AM on May 8, 2009

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