12

I don't know if you would consider this a misunderstanding, or that I am naive not to have got exact details but this is basically what happened..

I just started a new job as the web designer for a company. They seemed very excited to find me for the position and in the interview it seemed like the workplace was very relaxed. Casual dress code, and when asking about the hours they said something along the lines of "Start at nine or nine-thirty in the morning and just make sure you have eight hours."

So when I started, they asked what hours I wanted and I said 9:30 to 5:30. They agreed that was fine and that was that.

Now as I worked over the past few months, it seems like most people within the company that I actually work with go home before 5:30. So, admittedly I have left early somewhat often and am usually out between a little after 5 to 5:20.

Just the other day, the hr person came to me and asked about my hours. She said the she noticed that I had been leaving closer to 5 than 5:30 and suggested that we change my hours to - 35 hours - per week. While I am in favor of a shorter work day, I was confused at why she said 35 and not 37.5.

I asked her about it and she said that lunches are unpaid so if I wanted an 8 hour shift that I would have to be here for 8 1/2 hours. So now I am given the decision of going from 9:30 - 5:30, to either 8:30 to 5:00 as an eight hour day, or 9:30 to 5:00 as a seven hour day.

She also followed up by saying she didn't want me to feel like I'd done anything wrong, that they just wanted to make sure they knew when I would be in the office.

So my question is, does this sound like I am being punished for leaving early and they have decided to just pay me less, or is this some kind of misunderstanding where when I started, it was implied that an 8 hour day was 9:30 to 5:30 and now I'm being told that an 8 hour day is 8:30 to 5:00?

Is there a constructive way I could bring this up to let the hr person know that when I was in the interview and when I started, the work hours we talked about as eight hours included the lunch?

closed as off-topic by Jim G., gnat, Jan Doggen, Michael Grubey, mhoran_psprep Oct 7 '14 at 11:43

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  • 17
    If this is United States, unfortunately, the norm is for lunches to be unpaid. – Yamikuronue Oct 6 '14 at 17:44
  • 4
    If the time in the break is your own (where you can decide what you want to do), it is usually unpaid. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Oct 6 '14 at 17:45
  • 4
    This very related question covers a lot of the legal issues surrounding "no lunch break." Basically - companies can get in a lot of trouble if they do not force you to take an unpaid lunch break. This is unfortunate but something which is fairly common for legal reasons. – enderland Oct 6 '14 at 17:50
  • 9
    This is the absurdity you get at companies trying to treat web designers like fry cooks. – Telastyn Oct 6 '14 at 20:09
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    @Telastyn right on. This sort of arrangement makes no sense for a developer. You can't "fill up" 8 hours, just because that is the bureaucratic quota, with development work. That's not how software development happens. If you hire a developer and give them a quota of hours, then you are implicitly agreeing that the quota means "hours of the day when the developer's time is retained by the office" and emphatically not "8 hours of time during which software was actively developed." The idea of "8 hours of time in which software was actively developed" is just not an actual thing in reality. – ely Oct 6 '14 at 20:18
37

She also followed up by saying she didn't want me to feel like I'd done anything wrong, that they just wanted to make sure they knew when I would be in the office.

So my question is, does this sound like I am being punished for leaving early and they have decided to just pay me less, or is this some kind of misunderstanding where when I started, it was implied that an 8 hour day was 9:30 to 5:30 and now I'm being told that an 8 hour day is 8:30 to 5:00?

The HR person was almost certainly trying to accomplish two things:

  1. She was trying to hint to you that you were starting to leave early, that it was being noticed, and that maybe you shouldn't do that anymore.
  2. She was trying to tell you that you are supposed to work for 8 hours, not just be in the office for 8 hours every day. She is telling you that lunch is not part of that 8 hour period.

She may also be offering you the chance to keep the same hours you have recently chosen to work, but at a reduced pay level, since you aren't working 40 hours per week. You indicated that you are in favor of a shorter work day - it sounds like this is your choice to make.

There is nothing in what you have written that sounds punitive to me. It's just helping you align your future actions with what is being expected of you.

Is there a constructive way I could bring this up to let the hr person know that when I was in the interview and when I started, the work hours we talked about as eight hours included the lunch?

It depends on what you mean by "constructive".

You could certainly explain that you were confused about the accounting for the lunch hour, and thank her for the clarification.

That might be constructive - she won't think you were just trying to get paid for hours not worked, and she might lead HR to be more precise in its explanation for future new employees, so as to avoid similar confusion.

  • 5
    IT certainly is a mistake to leave early no matter what others are doing. Perhaps they comein at 8. Or perhaps they are not full time. Work the full 8 hours not including lunch and don't accept the idea of a change to fewer hours, you will get paid less and will likely lose your benefits including health insurance. – HLGEM Oct 6 '14 at 21:45
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    It's difficult to fit 8 hours plus lunch between 9:30 to 5:30. – Taemyr Oct 7 '14 at 7:29
  • 1
    If it is warm in the office and you need more water to stay hydrated and getting that water took 5 minutes, should you stay 5 minutes later to make up the time? – Gusdor Oct 7 '14 at 8:31
  • @Gusdor: reminds me of the funny employee manual where it states a maximum for minutes spent in a toilet... – Juha Untinen Oct 7 '14 at 11:54
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    @JuhaUntinen at my previous workplace, we tracked "restroom" time. People were punished for "excess" restroom time, and some people were even fired. Just goes to show how much some employers penny pinch. – Thebluefish Dec 8 '14 at 20:37
14

I have never heard of a job where lunch is included as paid work hours, unless it is specifically a lunch meeting. Some companies give you flexible time and allow you to work through lunch if you like. Others require you to take a half or full hour lunch break in the middle of the day, and some US states even require it by law. Your position sounds more like the latter.

Edit: I should note that the I live in the US, and this may not be true in other countries. @BenjaminGruenbaum specifically notes that companies in Israel are required to pay you for lunch break, and some even pay for lunch.

I would not take this as being punished for leaving early - the HR rep specifically said that "she didn't want me to feel like I'd done anything wrong, that they just wanted to make sure they knew when I would be in the office." She may have offered the fewer hours thinking that you preferred a shorter schedule. Talk to your HR rep (and probably manager too), explain your misunderstanding, and tell them which schedule you prefer. From this point going forward, you now know what is expected of you, so there shouldn't be more confusion in the future.

  • 5
    BTW allowing you to work through lunch and leave early is illegal in many states. There are leagally required breaks defined in many state labor laws and weven if the employee wants to skip the break, the lawy requires it be taken becasue it is tooeasy to coerce employes to not take their breaks and because the break is needed for health and safety reasons. – HLGEM Oct 6 '14 at 21:23
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    In the UK some jobs do pay for your lunch break, others don't. It depends on the job really. – Tim B Oct 6 '14 at 23:23
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    Perspective from other parts of the world - In Israel not only do they legally have to pay you for a lunch break, companies usually pay you for lunch. – Benjamin Gruenbaum Oct 7 '14 at 6:22
  • @Benjamin - Do you have a source for companies being required to pay the lunch break in Israel? And do you mean that usually companies offer the lunch? – Nicolas Barbulesco Jul 16 '15 at 22:11
  • On Brazil, lunch time is unpaid but the companies are forced by law to pay your lunch. – T. Sar Feb 16 '18 at 16:39
4

I have worked at a few companies that provided a 20-30 minute paid lunch but they required you work a full day. Which would mean if your schedule is from 930-1730 you would not leave until 1730. If you are leaving at 1700 then you are not working a full day in their eye. So it is not fair of you to be there less than 8 hours and assume that they will also be paying your lunch break, and that is assuming they have that same policy.

As you said they have a flexible scheduling environment. People leaving at 1700 probably either came in earlier than you, or have a shorter work week than you have. You could also set your schedule up to where you come in at 0800 and leave at 1700. This would give you the 40 hour work week and get you out of work at 5pm as you appear to desire.

I would also not take her saying "she didn't want me to feel like I'd done anything wrong, that they just wanted to make sure they knew when I would be in the office." at face value. Consider this a near warning. I have worked at places that would not have given the benefit of the doubt in this way, and I would assume that if they are forced to have this conversation with you again, that you will face some sort of disciplinary action. You are now on their radar so it will be best for you to make sure you are on time or early in arriving and on time or late in leaving making sure that there is no reason for them to suspect you are trying to milk any hours from them.

2

You assume everyone who is leaving early is still getting paid for 8 hours. That may or may not be the case. Ask HR what hours you should expect everyone else to be available.

If they have a different set of rules for you (maybe you're the only one they caught or they want to make an example out of the new guy), then I would consider it a punishment. Otherwise, if you don't put in the time, don't expect to get paid. Those are the rules of your contract, so you can look at it any way you want.

Check your contract to see if there is anything about lunch. In the US, there are rules about getting breaks every so often which are paid.

0

When you are eating your lunch, are you actually not working? I'm a software developer, not a designer, so our situations may be different. When I'm eating, I am still working: solving (thinking about) problems, anticipating unexpected workflows and attacks, maybe even actively reading an article related to my position on a (e-ink) Nook.

I'm not suggesting that you should include the time that you are in the shower at home as part of your 8 hours, even if you are 'working' in the sense that I describe above (as I do too). However, if you are physically in the building, and available for consultation by your coworkers, and occupied mentally by your work, then you are working even if your fingers are on the fork and not on the keyboard.

Our profession is not a binary [working |not-working] profession, like folding shirts or sweeping floors. Our work does not stop when we leave our chair. The last time one of our devs rear-ended another vehicle he was not abash about admitting that his mind was on his work, not on the road.

  • 4
    Even though you're in your mind still working, that doesn't mean the company counts that as you still working... Most companies I've worked for count your actual work day to be 8 hours PLUS a 30 minute to 1 hour lunch break, and couldn't care less what you do during that break, then of course pay only for those 8 hours. – jwenting Oct 7 '14 at 9:50
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    Actually, the trend seems to be that companies do care: they check Facebook posts, drug use, etc. I doubt that they do that for the floor sweeper. – dotancohen Oct 7 '14 at 10:27
  • maybe some companies, in some countries. Certainly not most, in most places. Especially in Europe the current (and historical) practice seems to be to consider programmers (and other IT people) as completely identical non-human assets that can just be replaced with another such with no effect on the team, that one DBA or programmer is no different from any other... – jwenting Oct 7 '14 at 10:37
  • Ah yes, the fungible programmer. Places infected with that also seem the think that throwing more programmers on a late project makes it happen faster. – dotancohen Oct 7 '14 at 10:40

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