50

I have been working for a company for around 9 months now and in that time I have only had 3 months where I have not had an ill day. I feel that this is because I'm typically prone to becoming ill. I do my best to eat correctly and take vitamin tablets to ensure I get all the nutrients that I need to work throughout the week as well as plenty of sleep to try prevent getting ill.

However, recently my manager has asked me to start eating breakfast every day because this is a meal I don't normally have, although I do have a third meal towards 9-10pm at night which I would consider a breakfast replacement. Where I have not had breakfast he is demanding that I eat my lunch that I have brought to work as my breakfast and find something else towards lunch time.

Should I force myself to eat breakfast as per my managers request or should I continue as I am?

closed as off-topic by gnat, IDrinkandIKnowThings, StephenG, Rory Alsop, BigMadAndy Jul 23 at 20:14

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  • 45
    Is there a considerable age gap between you two? Because based on the geography location you are in, it’s possible that the manager is not trying to be ‘bossy’ but merely trying to mentor you as an elder’ in starting a new habit which he may be perceiving as a healthy habit. Lot of assumptions in my statement, but it has happened to me. – LionsDen Jul 21 at 11:55
  • 24
    Is it possible you took what was meant as an advice from a colleague as an order from a manager? – YSC Jul 22 at 8:29
  • 6
    Where are you based? Adding that information as a tag would really help people answer. – user Jul 22 at 9:00
  • 6
    Presumably if you've been sick for 6 months, you've been to a doctor. What did they say? – Steve Smith Jul 22 at 11:24
  • 6
    @SteveSmith I read it as "In the past nine months, I have taken at least one sick day in six of them." – MonkeyZeus Jul 22 at 14:20
167

Option 4: Go to an actual medical doctor, get all the examinations (blood tests and whatever else the doctor asks for) done, and see what an actually qualified person says.

The doctor can tell you to eat breakfast, or not to eat, or what to eat, or something else altogether; at least you will have an opinion more qualified than that of either your boss or yourself.

You can also, in addition to a regular general practitioner, ask a dietician.

It is not your boss's place to tell you what or when to eat. However, put yourself in his situation: if he can't tell you what to do, he has two choices:

  • Accept You as You Are: Not a choice since he is responsible for overall results to his boss, so, if there are issues, he is expected to do something.
  • Fire You: Not a good option if he likes you and if the problem can be fixed with a good breakfast :)
  • 6
    @aaaaaa .. yet could be amended to be the right answer for workplace issues - telling the boss his request had a slightly different result, but a result nonetheless. The result being "my doctor recommended a change of diet". – anx Jul 19 at 17:24
  • 3
    @aaaaaa: To which the obvious answer is "It is highly unlikely you are better at medicine than my doctor." – Joshua Jul 19 at 19:10
  • 2
    There is also the possibility the doctor finds a cause and prescribes a treatment, in which case the OP can tell the manager generally that they are receiving treatment and work out how that affects their work moving forward (if it e.g. causes side effects or requires regular doctor visits). – IllusiveBrian Jul 19 at 19:49
  • 46
    A small suggestion: replace "nutritionist" with "dietitian". Dietitian is a regulated and registered profession requiring a degree. In many jurisdictions a "nutritionist" just needs use of a printer. – Colin Young Jul 19 at 20:05
  • 5
    Agreed with @ColinYoung. I think this is the best answer with 2 amendments. 1) Tell your boss you will consult a Doctor and / or Dietitian. A nutritionist is a dangerous title to trust with your health, as they might recommend a lemon / snake oil fast and cleanse for $8k – AthomSfere Jul 19 at 21:33
62

It would take some pretty hefty contortions to get to the point where it's OK for you boss to require you to eat breakfast - what meals you choose to eat when is pretty much none of his business!

That said, while clearly misguided at best, I don't think this is coming from a bad place and I understand his frustrations - while it's not your fault that you get ill frequently it can be very frustrating and disruptive to have an employee calling out sick this often. There's evidence to support the notion that skipping breakfast is detrimental to cognitive performance and that it can have a negative effect on health but it's not my place to tell you that should be eating breakfast any more than it is your manager's - and to be clear this, no matter how well intentioned, is a clear overstep.

If your manager continues to nag you on this I think you have two choices:

  1. Lie - Ok, so this might not be the most ethical/moral choice but it's not his business to be demanding to know whether you have eaten breakfast or not and this will likely be relatively low hassle.

  2. Push back - not so much on whether you should be eating breakfast or not, but on the fact that it's not his place to be dictating your diet. This doesn't have to be confrontational or angrily done:

I know you're just trying to look out for me and my health and I know it's frustrating for you when I'm ill this much, it's frustrating for me too but I am eating right, and I'm doing everything I can to try and stay healthy.

If you're talking with any medical professionals about this then you could also add in that you are doing so but that's your private info and it's your call.

  • 9
    That was my first thought. Have you discussed your frequent ill days with your doctor? – onnoweb Jul 19 at 13:20
  • 94
    You missed the third option, which is just go along with the request and eat some breakfast – mattumotu Jul 19 at 14:49
  • 50
    @mattumotu what happens when the OP is still ill and the boss tells him to change his bedtime? Or tells him to join a gym and get more exercise? Letting the boss dictate non-business activities like when you eat is absurd. – DaveG Jul 19 at 17:26
  • 24
    Eat a strawberry or something and call it breakfast. Bonus points if you stall your boss over something to do it: "Hang on, I forgot my breakfast--it'll only take a sec." eats strawberry "OK, what was that?" – 23fc9a62-56de-47fb-97b4-737890 Jul 19 at 17:53
  • 26
    The problem with nutritional science is that there is a study for every opinion. Following study says that intermittent fastening increases your cognitive performance and improves your health. Therefore I would never state any nutrition advices as facts. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3670843 – Chris Jul 19 at 22:21
28

I am fairly certain your boss is not actually trying to require breakfast, and definitely trying to tell you I have noticed that you take an abnormal number of sick days. Giving employees a warning for using too many sick days, especially if they are within the provided limit, is a bit of a touchy subject legally (not to mention comes across as being more than a little abrasive and thoughtless), so it sometimes gets broached as some form of 'you should try being healthier'.

  • @What are „too many sick days“? Where is such a limit legally established? – lejonet Jul 20 at 17:02
  • 4
    In my experience it is the greater of whatever is allowed by company policy and documented wherever such things are documented, OR, the overall average of the organization. Also, there is a difference between being "sick" and being "sickly". – Julie in Austin Jul 20 at 22:55
  • 1
    @lejonet What are „too many sick days“? Where is such a limit legally established? Often in the employment contract, along the lines of "The employer has the right to terminate the contract if the sick days exceed X". I saw IT employment contracts from a few European countries and that was the norm. But it doesn't matter too much, because "too many sick days" is how many sick days the employer is prepared to tolerate before retaliating (e.g. by officially firing for that, or firing for that but officially for something else, or cutting raises / benefits / etc, and so on). – SantiBailors Jul 21 at 9:23
  • @lejonet: I was once told by an HR employee that they are advised to take a closer look at anyone taking more than 11 sick days without medical certificate. Located in Germany, where laws are pretty employee-friendly. Many companies require a medical certificate only starting from the third day of sick leave, so one first HR step here is changing policy to require medical certificate for every single sick day to reassure it´s not holiday extending. This step is legally ok in Germany. – Jessica Jul 22 at 7:28
14

Here's the issue: if you're a at-will worker, your manager can fire you for any reason. Assuming you are in the USA. Calling in sick all the time, without some sort of documentation for it, I can totally see that is within reason to terminate someone.

With that said, your boss is telling you to take better care of yourself so you won't miss work as much. Should you become ill and not eat breakfast, he can fire you.

-1

Depending on where you are, your boss might require you to take your scheduled breaks at approximately the right time. This could be part of working time and worker protection regulations. Taking a breakfast break is not the same as eating breakfast, however.

-1

There's so much already written about vitamins and supplements etc so I would personally make sure you're getting the right advice for that and taking only really what your body needs.

Like others who have been downvoted, and to some extent my boss is like this, I think the manager in question is okay to suggest it. Taking a wider view on things, it's not the worse thing in the world to have a manager who is willing to actively suggest things that may help an employee. It's certainly not offensive or anything like that.

-2

You haven't stated your location, but assuming that you're located in some developed western country (and not in third world party) you have a decent worker protection. It means that you can't be fired because you're prone to sickness, even if you're more time on sick leave as in work. Your company can't also dictate you what do you do in your free time.

However, you're expected to care about your mental and physical health to the extend that doesn't sabotage your ability to work. If you're undermining your health by neglecting eating and trying to cover for malnutrition with pills, then it's reasonable for your manager to assume that your health problems are caused by your negligence for your health.

As long as unhealthy lifestyle doesn't affect your ability to work, it's not your employer's business, but it seems quite likely, that it do affect your ability to work, and it is their business. While it's not clear if a court would handle malnutrition as drug or alcohol abuse, for the sake of your health you shouldn't give it a try!

-4

It's not okay for your boss to try to "fix you" and force you to implement changes in your life that you are not interested in and do not need.

If you have a health problem, it is up to you to solve it. Your boss's involvement should be limited to expressing concern for your well-being, and following the law and company policy about paid leave. His belief that lack of breakfast is making you sick is not well-supported by science.

Employers have no right to dictate your behavior outside of work. While they can make requirements that might surprise you (like only hiring non-smokers, because smoking is not a protected class), I doubt they can make a requirement for you to eat breakfast, if only because they have no way to know whether you have done so, and furthermore employees would rise up in arms against them for such intrusive and controlling policies.

It may be fine for your boss to share his concerns once and suggest a possible solution, whether he's factually right or wrong. This can be a simple expression of desire to help. But going past mild influence into manipulation or outright coercion is unacceptable.

I recommend you stop giving your boss information about your eating habits. Start by no longer volunteering any information at all. If pressed, answer that you've eaten everything you need to eat up to that point in the day. You're not hungry. You're feeding yourself properly and you don't feel that your performance at work should be judged on your personal eating habits. Keep answering the same way over and over.

If your boss were demanding you go to the restroom and eliminate at certain times or with a certain frequency, would that be okay? While companies can make policies about when breaks may occur based on the normal capacity of healthy adults to wait between bathroom breaks, would you tolerate him requiring you to inform him of the exact nature of your bathroom activities and quantities produced? Must you go to the bathroom on your break and "try" if you don't need to? Maybe you can see what I mean. This is invasive.

If you are an adult, he should treat you like an adult—and you should act in a way that makes him understand that he can't treat you like anything other than that. You do not need to explain your eating habits to him.

Abide by your company’s policy, follow the law, and do what is good for your body and makes you feel good physically. Your employer should butt out.


I'm going to add some info about the health science, and am also adding some advice that is only here because it seems to me that the best solution for you is to be sick less often. You should of course do your own research as I have no authority—these are just one-time suggestions for your review.

I'm unaware of any direct and objective evidence that adopting the routine of having breakfast (the first meal of a person's day) around noon has any guaranteed deleterious effect. It is true that some people suffer if they go many waking hours without eating, but it seems clear that you do not.

It is likely a problem to skip breakfast if you normally eat it, but if not and you feel good, then there is no issue to continue doing so. You are essentially having your breakfast at lunch time, and there is nothing wrong with that. Many societies in history ate only a single meal each day and they did fine. Some societies today still do it!

Are you getting enough vitamin D? The next time you have a blood test, just ask for vitamin D levels to be checked. If you are low, then this is the easiest thing you can do to materially reduce the number of times you get sick. No, it is not enough to go out in the sun unless you are getting a full hour of sunlight with the sun directly overhead (which is not possible past 23°26ʹ degrees N/S latitude). Also, note that vitamin D is really more of a hormone than a vitamin, and if you do try to get it through sun, know that it is made directly from cholesterol, so if you are eating in a way that you have low cholesterol, this could impact vitamin D production. (And for that matter, LDL functions as an immune defense mechanism so very low levels could be an illness risk.)

In support for vitamin D supplementation claims: Harvard.edu Supplements Scorecard

It's very hard to get the vitamin D you need from your diet; oily fish and fortified dairy products are the only important sources. So supplements do make good sense for most adults. The form known as vitamin D3 is usually recommended, but D2 is also effective; for best results, take your vitamin D along with a meal that has some fat. If you want to be sure you need this supplement, ask for a blood test; levels of at least 30 nanograms per milliliter are considered best.

Or better, The BMJ – Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data

Vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of acute respiratory tract infection among all participants ... protective effects were seen in those receiving daily or weekly vitamin D ... Vitamin D supplementation was safe and it protected against acute respiratory tract infection overall. Patients who were very vitamin D deficient and those not receiving bolus doses experienced the most benefit.

  • 1
    Yep.Correct. It's okay for me to suggest it as a possibility, because he asked for help with a real problem. I don't have power over his job and I don't have any authority. If you're just pointing out that he should do his own research before taking anything I say as fact, then more power to you. If you're suggesting I've done anything improper or questionable, I'll have to reject that out of hand. Whatever comparisons you want to make between me and his manager, the manager's repeated interference is meddlesome, but my advice could greatly improve his health. So that's different. A little. – CodeSeeker Jul 19 at 22:56
  • 4
    "those studies that show skipping breakfast can be bad for people are not real because they included people [aren't adapted to fat metabolism??] for whom skipping breakfast is bad." That's circular logic. Maybe the OP is such a person, for example. – Kate Gregory Jul 20 at 17:14
  • 2
    @JulieinAustin uh, no. The employer may only reasonably make rules and policies about what happens at work. If these performance standards aren’t met, then discipline follows. It is wrong for an employer to meddle with someone’s private eating habits. Additionally, there is no clear connection between skipping breakfast and getting sick. Personal health information is protected by statute. Are you seriously okay with your employer dictating your meals? Seriously?!??!?!? – CodeSeeker Jul 20 at 22:32
  • 1
    @CodeSeeker - The OP is missing what sounds like an excessive amount of work time and for some reason, unknown to us, the manager has concluded it has something to do with the OP's eating habits. So, yeah, the manager can strongly suggest that eating breakfast is a good idea. Whenever behavior OUTSIDE the workplace affects behavior INSIDE the workplace (like, not being there because of all those sick days ...). The OP should be grateful they weren't just flat-out terminated because "The employer may only reasonably make rules and policies ..." – Julie in Austin Jul 20 at 22:39
  • 2
    @JulieinAustin it’s completely irresponsible for an employer to speculate on an employee’s reasons for poor performance. Set a policy about number of sick days, paid leave, FMLA, require a doctors note, etc., fine, but get all up in an employee’s personal health business, and that’s a lawsuit waiting to happen. – CodeSeeker Jul 20 at 22:45
-6

I'm going to disagree with a lot of people here, so I'm probably going to get downvoted for saying this, but I think, that barring laws or business policies to the contrary, Yes, the boss does have the right to mandate that his employees eat breakfast.

As a manager, he is responsible for the output of his employees, and it is his job to maximize the productivity of those employees. If he believes that failing to eat a given meal reduces employee productivity (and there are a number of scientific studies that show that failure to do so harms cognitive ability), then it is entirely within his rights to mandate that you eat a breakfast at work, just like it would be within his rights to mandate that all team members eat lunch together at the work cafeteria for team-building purposes.

He wouldn't, however, have the ability to control your behavior outside the workplace - he can't make you eat breakfast at home, even if he can make you eat it at work. Additionally, if he's going to mandate eating breakfast as an official work activity, it'd be reasonable to ask for your employer to cover it as a part of the team's budget.

  • 9
    A manager can only require that your behaviour at work is appropriate. If you can work on 2 hours of sleep each night, that fine, but if your behaviour due to sleepiness affects your work behaviour the manager can tell you to stop the effects noticeable at work, s/he can't force you to stop late night gaming. My coworker was not told to stop his 5:2 diet, he was told to stop screaming and be angry 2 days of the week at work. A good manager can try to help his employees by telling them what behaviour they think affects their work and give support but they can't force anything. – Mattias Jul 20 at 14:23
  • 2
    I would rephrase your answer from "mandate" to "strongly suggest". – Julie in Austin Jul 20 at 22:30
  • 1
    Here you say "expected" while in the answer you say "has the right to require". You mix "strongly suggest" or more general "to do everything in the managers power to make you more productive" with "has the right to do". The latter is not true, or if so, please state why. I agree with you in general that it is his responsibility etc. but the "right" leaves me no other choice then a -1 – Mayou36 Jul 21 at 16:55
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    No, this level of micromanaging is thoughtless at best. A manager can mandate performance improvement, which may lead OP to have breakfast, but he can't order him to eat. Lunch breaks and intervals do not require eating either, though eating at those times tend to be optimal. – lucasgcb Jul 22 at 10:23
  • 2
    It's really bizarre—you're getting downvoted for saying managers can mandate employees eat, and I'm getting downvoted for saying managers can't. What is it with people? – CodeSeeker Jul 22 at 23:05

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