I'm not getting my snack time, and I'm getting cranky.
February 21, 2014 5:43 PM   Subscribe

My state job is pretty blatantly ignoring the state laws regarding rest periods. I have low blood sugar and am finding the conditions difficult to manage.

I recently took a job as a courtroom clerk with the state of Oregon. I work 8-5 with an unpaid 1 hour lunch period from 12-1 PM. From 8:15 AM - noon and 1:15 PM - 5:00 PM, I am in the courtroom assisting with hearings. According to Oregon law, non-exempt employees are entitled to a paid rest period of at least ten minutes for every 4 hours worked. (I am a non-exempt employee.)

I work with rotating judges (the judge changes each week,) but the same managing clerk. (She is the one who controls the courtroom proceedings/who is heard when, etc.) The managing clerk is my direct supervisor, but she will not ask for the court to recess unless the judge specifically calls for it. In about a month on the job, I've had two breaks-- both of which were requested by the judge.

This situation has proven to be very tough on my body-- I have low blood sugar, and generally need to eat every 2 hours or so. By 4:30, I'm lightheaded, a little shaky, and very grumpy. We are not allowed to have food in the courtroom. I've thought about sneaking a protein shake in in a water bottle or something, but then I start to feel silly and like there must be a better solution.

I think part of the problem is that there are so many hearings scheduled each day that if we took a 10-15 minute recess twice a day, we would almost certainly be in court past 5:00, requiring that the agency pay us overtime. I can see why they would want to avoid this, and get everyone through quickly, but I'm getting frustrated.

Although I'd prefer to address this directly with my supervisor, it seems like a losing battle. She's not an easy person to talk to in general, and she's been running this courtroom a certain way for 7 years, which makes me think she's unlikely to change. Should I go to HR? Talk to my boss's boss? Sneak Skittles in in my sweater sleeves?
posted by frizzle to Law & Government (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a union rep? This seems to be the perfect sort of thing to take to your union. Are you AFSCME? CSEA?
posted by Colonel Sun at 5:48 PM on February 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

Why feel silly about the protein shake in an opaque water bottle? Seems like a potentially ideal solution to me; you could refill it at lunch.
posted by limeonaire at 5:53 PM on February 21, 2014 [26 favorites]

If the problem is really just the food thing, and you'd be 100% okay with no breaks otherwise (it's okay if you're not!) then I'd consider going to your direct supervisor not with "you're breaking state law", which I understand you being nervous about, but with "I have a medical condition that requires that I have a small snack in the mornings and the afternoons, it turns out I really can't skip it, would you prefer that I bring something into the courtroom--possibly in a way that looks innocuous--or would you prefer to ask the judges to recess for a few minutes?"

If you want to insist on the break--again, I don't want that to sound like you're overreaching, you are entitled to it--then I'd go directly to HR, I think, just because they'd be able to bring it up with her in a more neutral sort of way.
posted by Sequence at 6:01 PM on February 21, 2014 [14 favorites]

I feel for you; I work in healthcare where we are booked (if not double booked) solid all day long. we MIGHT get to eat while we are typing reports over the lunchhour. It sucks, and it will never change. You could certainly complain to people, but... idk. Good luck with that. I think a smoothie in a water bottle is a great idea (many of my colleagues do exactly that).
posted by lilnublet at 6:01 PM on February 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah there might be a rule that prohibits food in the courtoom but if all you really need is some candy to keep your sugar level up, then I would just take some in and eat them during what opportunity presents itself.

If you are being discrete, I bet no one would really notice or care enough to say anything. But if someone says anything about it you can state you are happy to consume your food during a break in the court session and ask when that might be.
posted by loquat at 6:02 PM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

My two-cents: Do not talk to HR. Their job is pretty much to keep the workplace humming. That means as little rocking the boat as possible. In my experience, As soon as you open your mouth, they will be thinking of ways to mitigate the situation. The situation being you having a problem not the problem you are having.
posted by Foam Pants at 6:48 PM on February 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

I work in court rooms a lot and judges really do control the flow, when their are breaks, etc. I'm not surprised at all the clerk won't do it, and wouldn't be surprised if she has been brought to task for calling for breaks in the past by judges.

What I would do is tell your supervising clerk, as non-confrontationally and as non-passive aggressively as you can, that you're going to start bringing it up with the judge, and then do so in a short respectful manner. Chances are the judge will call for the breaks.
posted by bswinburn at 7:24 PM on February 21, 2014

This is a reasonable accommodation if anything else. I'd lie and say the issue has just started coming up and ask your supervisor the best way to maintain blood sugar without it being a hassle. She definitely doesn't want you to pass out in court and disrupt everything when you could somehow manage a small snack.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:45 PM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oregon state employee here. You need to talk to your direct sup. if she is absolutely unwilling to help you at all, chat with your union rep. I absolutely get why this is incredibly difficult as I know how judges run their court rooms-but man, people have to pee.
posted by purenitrous at 8:23 PM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

So a beverage is allowed? There's nothing wrong with having a bottle of something? If that's the case, then bringing in a shake or smoothie sounds smart, not silly. Folks are probably drinking their coffee all around you, so why shouldn't you get to drink your smoothie?
posted by sam_harms at 10:44 PM on February 21, 2014

Your low blood sugar may constitute a disability your workplace is obliged to accommodate, in which case you may be an exception to the no-food rule. Talk to your union rep and physician. This doesn't have to be that huge a deal.
posted by gingerest at 2:11 AM on February 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Are cough drops allowed? They can tide you over in a pinch.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 2:26 PM on February 22, 2014

Fiber and protein both help stabilize blood sugar, so starting the day with a tuna sandwich on wholegrain bread, or oatmeal and an egg, or whatever, might help. If you can bring in a packet of nuts or dried fruit, that should tide you over - I usually keep almonds and dried apricots at my desk.

Go to your supervisor and say I need your help solving a problem. I have low blood sugar and need to have the opportunity to have a snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Whatever the result, document it in email Supervisor, as we discussed today, blah, blah. Give Supervisor the chance to solve the problem. If there's no resolution, go to HR. You probably have a union, they'll be a good resource. Supervisor, HR, Union, etc., are almost certainly aware of the regulation. Let the union enforce it.
posted by theora55 at 11:51 PM on February 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

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