There’s a strict rule about enforcing a meal period for New York’s workers. The law mandates that in most cases, an employee who works more than six hours that begins before 11 a.m. and ends after 2:00 p.m. must be given at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted time for a meal break.
The employer need not pay the employee for this break.
However, employers are required by law to police the break to ensure it is being taken. Except in very limited circumstances, that means New York employers must consistently require their employees take a half hour sometime between 11 and 2 and not perform work during this time.
Can the employee sit at her desk during the 30 minutes? Of course she can. At least under the law, there’s no requirement that employees move away from their desks or sit only in a kitchen area. What’s clear, however, is that if employees spend their meal period at their desk, they shouldn’t be permitted to work at the same time, or else the 30-minute meal period hasn’t occurred.
For most New York employers, this means having a policy requiring that employees stop working and take their 30-minute meal break before returning to work or face disciplinary action. Routinely shaving time off the beginning or end of the workday simply doesn’t cut it. It may seem counter-intuitive to insist that employees stop working for 30 minutes, but the law requires it. And even longer work days may require additional breaks; do consult with your employment attorney to ensure your policies comply with the law.