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I work in a devops-like role in Colorado. My manager recently let us know that he wants everyone on the team to be taking a one-hour unpaid lunch break every day so that we each span 9 hours of coverage (we are not required to be in the office or available during our one-hour break, and there is no clocking in/out). Prior to this I had been working through lunch so that I only had to be in the office for 8 hours, which is preferable to me.

  • Can a manager legally mandate a one-hour unpaid break every day?
  • If so, can this be enforced verbally only? (I.e. my manager has not written down this policy anywhere, he has only told us about it, and it was not part of my offer letter or anything else I signed.)
  • What legal recourse does my manager have against employees who ignore this verbal mandate and stay in the office 8 hours, working through lunch?
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    At the risk of asking the obvious, are you salary or hourly? – ohgodOhGod_ITSNOTWORKING Feb 14 at 19:00
  • @OhGodOhGod_itsnotworking I am salary, but this rule was applied to hourly contractors as well – MountainDrew Feb 14 at 20:59
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By state law you are required to have at least a 30 minute unpaid lunch break and your employer can face legal penalties if you don't get it.

https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/state/meal-breaks#Colorado

½ hour if work shift exceeds 5 consecutive hours. On-duty meal period counted as time worked and permitted when nature of work prevents relief from all duties.

As for what can happen colorado is an at will state so it is possible to fire you for not following the policy.

https://www.blr.com/HR-Employment/Performance-Termination/Termination-with-Discharge-in-Colorado

Colorado is an “employment-at-will” state. This means that either the employer or the employee may end the employment relationship without giving either notice or a reason. However, while this is true in theory, Colorado statutes and courts have changed the traditional doctrine to some degree.

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    Does that requirement apply to exempt employees? I THINK it's only required for non-exempt. – John Spiegel Feb 14 at 19:04
  • @JohnSpiegel The documentation I saw in the link was based on industry and not exempt/non-exempt. But I also don't think we have enough information to determine which one the op falls into. – Joe W Feb 14 at 19:05
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    @JoeW "at least a 30 minute unpaid lunch break" does that mean a manager could mandate a two-hour lunch break? Or is 30 minutes the maximum? – MountainDrew Feb 14 at 21:01
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    @JoeW "your employer can face legal penalties if you don't get it" even if my employer offers it but I don't take them up on the offer? – MountainDrew Feb 14 at 21:03
  • @MountainDrew Law doesn't care if the employee doesn't want to take it or not partially because there are cases where the employer penalizes people who take what they are legally entitled to. Also this answer was not as much on the length of the lunch break but the requirement of taking one. – Joe W Feb 14 at 21:15
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Generally, it is the opposite. Most jurisdictions mandate time off for lunch rather than mandating that lunch can be worked through. Where I am basically requires that employees take a half hour for lunch. I was denied for trying the same thing on occlusion and my manager told me to scoot or I would expose the company to liability.

I am no legal expert, but it is only in a few jobs where work is so individual that a working lunch is regularly feasible. I doubt there is a provision for this.

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