Pages Navigation Menu

Business & Employment Law

Dining Aldesco: Break time or Overtime

Now Getting a Bite Eat Means Getting a Byte to Eat

Once upon a time taking your lunch break on a work day meant getting together with some friends or coworkers. You would go to a nearby restaurant and chat over a meal away from the office. If you didn’t feel like socializing you might grab a book and enjoy a sack lunch in the park. While this still takes place, more and more of us are choosing to spend our lunchtime eating at our desk while we catch up on social media, browse YouTube videos, or surf the Internet.

In fact, so many of us are opting for this type of midday meal that it now has a name. It’s known as dining “Aldesco.”

eating-aldesko-lunchaldesco \al-‘des-co\ adj or adv
1. At a desk. USAGE: Often used to describe eating lunch while seated at a workstation. Opposite of alfresco, which connotes pleasant outdoor settings far removed from fluorescent lights and fax machines. The term originated in a U.K. study which found that many workers were opting to eat lunch at their desks instead of heading out with friends or co-workers, using the time to catch up on email and browse their favorite shopping websites.

Example: Facing a tight work deadline, Sherrie pushed aside her day planner and ate an aldesco lunch.

—Business Dictionary, Spirit Lexicon, Entry No. 307.

Was she working aldesco or just checking her phone while she waited for food to arrive?

Chandra Lewis worked as a full time, non-exempt community relations coordinator at The Keiser School and Everglades College in Florida. Her responsibilities included visiting area high schools, college and career fairs, and community events as a representative of the school. Because she spent time off-site at area schools and events her work hours fluctuated. She wrote weekly reports to the school and was responsible for reporting her own hours. Her job was eligible for overtime pay.

Lewis contended that Keiser should pay her for emails during her lunch hour. She conceded the emails weren’t lengthy and couldn’t have taken more than a few minutes to draft and send, but also insisted the emails were evidence of more substantial work during her lunch breaks.

Lewis could have been dining aldesko or working off her personal device. She also pointed out her supervisors were recipients of the emails so they knew she was working during her lunch.

Keiser argued Lewis clocked herself in and out and accounted for her own work hours. There was no evidence Keiser forced her to clock out and continue working through lunch. Keiser also showed Lewis did not accurately record her work time. Keiser argued at best, her work was de minimus and not compensable.

What’s Fair?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) is the law that governs how employees must be paid. Unless your employee falls under a FMLA exception, GENERALLY an employee must be paid no less than minimum wage for “hours worked” in a 40-hour work week and at least one-and-one-half times that rate for hours worked over 40. A business that violates the FLSA is not only responsible for the unpaid wages but potentially also for liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees.

Note: Because these laws can be very complex and confusing to the average employer, if you aren’t completely sure about your situation, you should seek the advice of a lawyer.

Blurring lines on high-def screens

aldesko-2014Portable electronics have blurred the edges of what “hours worked” means. The days of being chained to a giant desktop computer to get your emails are long gone. Today it’s very common for an employee to get a work email during lunch or after hours and, while she was not asked to respond immediately, she responds and the recipient accepts the work product. These emails clearly show the time (off hours) when the work was performed.

For instance, if your employees are using their lunch breaks to do work-related emails or tasks, you should be aware of the laws regarding wage and overtime. Requirements for meal breaks vary by state, and it was updated as of 1/1/2014. Click here to check the meal requirements for each state.

Concerned about what this could mean for your business? Ask me while having lunch with me aldesko on March 19, 2014 at 12 noon CST when we discuss “Growing Pains: Legal Protections for Maturing Businesses and free Q&A. Seating is limited so click here to register.