Can employer restrict where you take an unpaid lunch break?

We are grounds and maintenance staff for a school district and we visit 4 different properties, 1 per day. We have been informed we must take our

unpaid 30 minute lunch break at the property we are working at, and not to

return to the shop until 15 minutes before our shift is up. We have also been told we may not use the school vehicle to run errands on our unpaid lunch break. Upon clarification we have been told we can punch out for lunch, return to our personal vehicle, run errands, return to property we are working at and punch back in. The 2 furthest properties are 12 minutes from our personal vehicles. The math is simple, 30 minutes minus 12 minutes to vehicle and 12 minutes back to job site leaves 6 minutes to attempt to use the unpaid break for any personal reason banking, pharmacy, etc. In effect we are locked into the property we have reported to. Is this a legal practice? If we choose to return to our personal vehicle, we have already punched the clock and then used a work vehicle when not on the clock. Are we covered by insurance in case of an accident since we are on unpaid time?

Asked on September 15, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, New York


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

It is legal because legally, you can leave: the employer is not responsible for the lack of close-by lunch venues or that logistically, it may not work to go elsewhere. As long as you are allowed to leave, even if there is no where you can practically go, the employer has fulfilled all its obligations vis-a-vis your lunch break. The landlord is not required to let you use its vehicles for this purpose, even if that would be more convenient; and is not required to give you extra time to errands or accommodate your schedules. The pratice is legal and not even all that uncommon; people may often work in remote locations where, as a practical matter, they can't go anywhere during their lunch break. All that matters is the employer lets them go, not whether or not they can get anywhere useful.

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