Should hourly employees be compensated for attending business lunch meetings?
November 5, 2005 8:46 PM   Subscribe

Are employers allowed to require their employees attend work related meetings where food is provided without being compensated for that time?

I am a non-union, non-exempt hourly "at-will" employee in the state of Georgia. I work a 40 hour week of 9 hour days including a one hour non-paid meal period per day. Lately our company has heartily embraced "business lunch meetings", where we are required to attend and/or participate in a meeting. Food is provided. We are required to use our meal period for these meetings, meaning we don't get paid for an hour of the meeting.

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, if a meal period is provided, "the employee must be completely relieved from duty for the purpose of eating regular meals. The employee is not relieved if he/she is required to perform any duties, whether active or inactive, while eating." It seems to me that participating in a meeting or even just attending is in conflict with this. On the same page FLSA also indicates, "attendance at lectures, meetings, training programs and similar activities need not be counted as working time only if four criteria are met, namely: it is outside normal hours, it is voluntary, not job related, and no other work is concurrently performed."

The information at the Georgia Department of Labor site regarding meal periods seems to agree with this (and also indicates the state doesn't require a meal period be given at alll). I don't want to cause an uproar with my company, but I strongly feel as if they are technically requiring us to work during these meetings and therefore we should be paid for this time. I previously tried to address this issue with HR, however they never got back to me with an answer either way. I'd like to first know whether I have a legitimate complaint before addressing it with them again.

Are these sorts of "business lunch meetings" acceptable in the state of Georgia? If not, is there something the company can do to make these meetings an acceptable use of our non-compensated lunch period, such as requiring we attend the meeting, but providing an hour of non-work related down time when the food is made available? If the company is doing something in the wrong, what avenues do I have to try to convince them of this without jeopardizing my job?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total)
I am an hourly student employee in New Jersey—no benefits, no union. I am part-time, but I worked full-time this summer.

Every single meeting I've attended (training, setting schedules, and various other things) has been paid, whether there was food or not. I've never heard of anyone who's hourly (this includes the full-time, non-student staff) being required to attend a lunch/dinner meeting that wasn't paid.

I can't say for sure, but my gut feeling is that you're being stiffed.
posted by oaf at 9:27 PM on November 5, 2005

If you're working, you should be compensated.

I had a similar issue with an employer who refused to pay overtime. Illinois law requires time and a half for every hour over 40 worked per week. Double time on holidays. I often put in 50 hours or more on a given week, and regularly worked over holidays.

I mentioned it to my boss, and received a stern comeuppance. I could have made an issue of it, but in the long run it wasn't worth it to me. I simply started looking for a better job.

In your situation, I'd cut out of work early on days when you don't take a lunch, or ask to come in an hour late the following morning. That's generally how these things are worked out rather than tinkering with payroll, etc. See how your boss feels about it.
posted by aladfar at 9:45 PM on November 5, 2005

I don't know the law, but I do know exactly how I'd feel about it: you should be getting paid for that time.

Are there consequences to not attending? Do you feel free to leave, purchase a sandwich at the cart up the street, smoke a cigarette or two, and return from lunch after an hour? Or, are you working on stuff? If you're working on stuff, then you're at work, and should be paid.

posted by Netzapper at 9:46 PM on November 5, 2005

I am an "exempt" salaried "professional" who works for a big US government contractor. A regular feature of my job is 'brown-bag' lunch-hour seminars (although food is not provided; we're expected to bring our own, hence the label). But they realize it can't be required, attendance is optional, only management and the over-achievers go regularly.

But ya gotta show up occasionally, it's part of the game. Similar abuse occurs when big meetings go past noon, sometimes they send out for sandwiches, instead of allowing a real break (which would actually turn out to be 1.5 or 2 hours, with some stragglers taking even longer).

Once you're in this salaried, "exempt" class, I don't believe there's anything you can do about it (except bitch and moan with like-minded co-workers). "Exempt" employees charge hours just like the "non-exempt" (these are Dept of Labor classifications) but compensation when the job requires working late is extremely rare (certainly nothing like the time-and-a-half for anything over 40 hours/week our blue-collar bretheren receive). I've always thought software workers should organize and get union benefits, but that's a pipe-dream in this era of out-sourcing.
posted by Rash at 9:46 PM on November 5, 2005

If you're salaried, then you're stuck. If you're hourly, tack it on and work one less hour on Friday. That's what I used to do (being hourly).
posted by SeizeTheDay at 9:50 PM on November 5, 2005

I forgot to mention something...if you are full time hourly (and not salary) and they don't allow you to leave early, they are indeed fucking you by an hour (or whatever amount of time the meeting is). Being full-time hourly is great in these occasions.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 10:06 PM on November 5, 2005

Document it all. If you ever have a falling out with the company, you can take it up with whatever the non-Canadian version of Employment Standards is.
posted by acoutu at 10:50 PM on November 5, 2005

Document it. Here in California ex-employees regularly make a bit of change by suing over stuff like this.
posted by rdr at 11:37 PM on November 5, 2005

Unless you are union you typically get stuck with things like this. Usually an understanding boss will find a way to charge it or will allow you to take off early at another time. I doubt the efficacy in trying to fight for the added work time of a few hours over the course of a year. Try making it up in other ways by taking home office supplies, or surfing the internet for the appropriate amount of time on the office computer? Maybe drink extra office coffee or take extra long bathroom breaks?
posted by JJ86 at 12:22 AM on November 6, 2005

I once worked at a law firm where the senior partner organised entire weekends that we were obliged to attend (with our partners) to develop business plans, etc., and to socialise with each other (people I wouldn't socialise with by choice).

He seemed to think that it was ok that we had to give up a weekend - unpaid - because he was paying for this to take place at a smart hotel in the countryside. It was pointed out to him that we could have used the board room at the office, and what he'd saved on the hotel could be used to pay us a weekend's overtime instead, but it fell on deaf ears.

Before I joined the firm, he'd apparently insisted that staff came in to decorate the offices on a weekend, again unpaid. One woman who refused was fired. She took him to an Industrial Tribunal and won, but he was a control freak and thought he could dictate how we spent every waking moment.

At the place I work now, they tried a few years back to organise lunchtime 'get togethers' with the big wigs. I kept declining the invitations - I knew the boss found these things excruciating. He was a genius at his job, but left the 'people person' stuff to others who were good at it. His bosses thought he should host these things and everyone who went said it was embarrassing, long silences, everyone wishing they were somewhere else.

In the end, after declining four times, I explained that, if I was told it was compulsory, I'd go, but I'd consider it to be working, not my lunch hour, so I would leave an hour early that day. Upshot was, no more invitations, nothing more said about it.

Your situation sounds like the thin end of the wedge - it's not acceptable to expect you to work your lunch break just because food is provided. But the reality is, making waves in a job sometimes can cost you that job. Those of us with job security/unions can afford to speak out. Sadly, many people have very little power in the workplace and the bosses, knowing this, will exploit it to the max.
posted by essexjan at 1:17 AM on November 6, 2005

You're being taken. This is not the same as saying you have to stay on the premises while you eat, which is allowed. This is doing their stuff on your time. You don't say, but if you're punching a clock, then taking comp time isn't going to help. Document everything, and when you leave the company, call the Georgia wage & hours division (or equivalent) and get paid for your time.

Unless you are union you typically get stuck with things like this.

No, you don't. It's illegal, and any company management who engage in this sort of thing are idiots.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:19 AM on November 6, 2005

Can you go to those meetings and then take a lunch hour immediately afterwards?
posted by blue_beetle at 7:53 AM on November 6, 2005

No, you don't. It's illegal, and any company management who engage in this sort of thing are idiots.

Whether or not it's legal, and whether or not you like it, doesn't change the fact that it happens all the time. They may be assholes, but if they're getting away with it, which they often are, they're not idiots.
This reminds me of when I was a long-term temp, at a different job, about ten years ago. There was a company charity event, where everyone from the office would spend a Saturday refurbishing the home of some allegedly poor people. As it turned out, those 'poor people' had a much better living situation, and obviously a lot more money, than I did. Anyway, it was an unpaid work day. And, weeks before it had even occurred to me to protest, an announcement was circulated saying that temps were expected to attend along with everyone else.

Could I have refused to attend? Sure, they weren't going to drag me there in shackles. But times were hard and I was hoping they would hire me full-time (They didn't. Bastards.). I thought about calling the temp agency, but all they cared about was making the company happy; kicking up shit with them would have gotten me out the door even faster.

In another job, the owner instituted a policy that, to prevent the end-of-day tasks from going on long past closing time, nobody could leave the store for the duration of their shift, not even during break. I looked up the law that stated otherwise, printed it out, and left it on the owner's desk. The owner promptly rescinded the policy, and solved the problem by having the manager come in an hour earlier every day, explaining to him exactly why it was happening and who the troublemaker was. From then on, the manager was looking for a reason to get rid of me, and he eventually did, and I didn't get unemployment.

Such is the nature of the low-wage lifestyle. It's exploitative and unfair. I'm not saying that you should sit there and take it. But the truth is that for someone smart and pro-active enough to not let matters lie, the path of least resistance is usually to just find a better job.
posted by bingo at 8:13 AM on November 6, 2005

If you're hourly, don't you have to fill out a timesheet? And if you have to fill out a timesheet, can't you just put down that you did not have a lunch break that day? That's what I have done in every hourly job I've worked.

I understand why you're upset, but I don't get what the big deal is- just write "0" in the little space they give you for "lunch time" and spend your time looking for a job that's not trying to get you to work for free.
posted by elisabeth r at 8:58 AM on November 6, 2005

I previously tried to address this issue with HR, however they never got back to me with an answer either way. I'd like to first know whether I have a legitimate complaint before addressing it with them again.

Some suggestions: first, you should "approach" HR via email, and keep a printed copy; that way, you're on record. Second, you should approach them seeking "clarification" or something similarly neutral, rather than as an aggrieved person seeking additional compensation.

But keep in mind the larger picture: you're still leaving work at the same time when you have these businesses lunches; you're getting free food (quality unstated); unless you're in a union, you can be terminated at will, which is more likely if you're labeled as a "troublemaker". If it really, really bothers you to go to these meetings (once a week?), and you don't really care if you get laid off from this job (or are protected by a union), then it may be worth it to make a sufficient fuss about this to get HR to act on your question.

But if other aspects of the job (the boss, the type of work, the commute, etc.) are okay, then maybe you shouldn't make this an issue. You could just document this occasions, and your initial attempt with HR (even if face-to-face meeting, who you saw, and when), and then when you leave the company, file a claim for additional pay.
posted by WestCoaster at 9:00 AM on November 6, 2005

Wage & hour lawsuits are becoming more and more prevelant. Document it all for a while; complain to your supervisor; if nothing changes, go see a lawyer. You shouldn't have to pay the lawyer for a consultation, and a lot of times, the statutes provide for attorneys' fees, so you might not ever have to pay.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:22 AM on November 6, 2005

I would go to HR, but just say "I'm expected to work during these lunches, how do I go about getting the pay I am due?". I don't even think it's arguable that you should not be getting paid for the time you are working.
posted by xammerboy at 10:53 AM on November 6, 2005

Yeah, you're getting screwed. This kind of thing is one reason I'm so happy being a freelancer, scary as it can be. This seems like good advice:

In your situation, I'd cut out of work early on days when you don't take a lunch, or ask to come in an hour late the following morning.

Depending, of course, on your relation with your employers. If you think that approach would piss them off, then endure it and start looking for another job.
posted by languagehat at 11:17 AM on November 6, 2005

Let me restate my position:
If management pulls this kind of crap, they're idiots. If they get away with it, their employees are.

Those wage&hours lawsuits are not cheap to defend, and if management tries to cheat sentient employees this way, it will probably cost their company far more than playing it straight would.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:26 PM on November 6, 2005

« Older Boss Appreciation   |   turn my pc into a fireplace Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.