Late from Lunch

Dear, Anita,

I have several professionals working under me who are acting less and less professional! They often all go to lunch together but lately, they’ve been returning later and later. I think team camaraderie is a great thing, but a 1-1/2 to 2-hour lunch is getting ridiculous. Since they are salaried employees, I can’t dock their pay, now can I? How can I handle the situation?

Dear, Miffed at Midday,

I’m sure your first question was rhetorical, but let me make it clear for others who may be “out to lunch” on HR subjects. While an employer may take deductions to a salaried (exempt) employee’s pay when they are absent a full day, they cannot be docked hourly. The U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division notes that salary “cannot be reduced because of variations in the quality or quantity of the employee’s work.”

But, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employers can require exempt employees to work a set schedule and/or record their work hours. So while you can’t dock their pay, you can certainly employ disciplinary measures for failing to work the required hours.

Work_Lunch_iStock_000042192800_LargeIf your department does not already have a set schedule of work hours in place, you may wish to institute one. But before you do, take notice. Are your employees working late? Coming in early? Working from home after hours? You don’t want to seem unappreciative and nit-picky if all of the team’s tasks are getting finished – on time and with excellence. Consider the effect on morale if you impose strict hours. If your professionals are properly classified as exempt, they should be decision-makers and self-managers – and treated like the grown-ups they are.  A simple e-mail memo (“Hey, team, let’s avoid those extra-long lunches”) may be just as effective without fomenting a mutinous reaction to a new hours policy.

To diffuse the tension, add a little levity. Give everyone on your team a watch and suggest that the restaurant of choice be Chili’s. The southwestern food chain recently introduced “Pay & Go” tableside tablet kiosks so you’re not waiting on your waiter to bring the check. Maybe lunch breaks will get a whole lot faster.  Even if you send one person out to order for the group at a fast food restaurant, there’s no guarantee that it will save time, as this MADtv skit illustrates:

Readers: How would you address this long lunch situation?

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. RPD
    Aug 19, 2014 @ 10:05:20

    By working under you does that mean you have the authority to set policy in regards to those being late back from lunch, if not then you’ll create more problems since you don’t have that power to do so, I have worked in such a position with those limitations, and realize that it is not in my job position or description to set or correct . The best you can hope for, is to go to those with the power and let them decide how they want to handle it. Some times we have no choose but to do so.


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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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