Context: I work in a small size (25) IT company in Canada for about 8 months. And I'm paid by hour, I punch time in a software.

At my job, they really like to do meetings during lunch time, about 2 or 3 times a week, and a lot of colleagues go and do, but I never do it, because I think I need my break from work to eat and relax. They always says these meetings aren't obligatory, but recommended, so I never show up, these aren't paid anyway.

But then, my boss met me to ask me to "participate more" in the company, and by that, he meant being present in weekly unpaid lunch meeting, meaning sacrificing my freedom to go outside take a walk, eat at subway or whatever and just do some work during my pause. Sometimes, I miss important meetings that they should have scheduled during work hours and not lunch break.

I don't think I should be required to do this because it breaks Canadian work laws which says Employer should give at least 30 minutes of unpaid break, or paid one if they require employees to stay at the office.

How can I approach my boss with this issue ?

EDIT after comments: I can't take my break before or after these lunch meetings, because it would mean I have a two hours unpaid break, and during all this time, I don't work. I have much to do in my day, so I only have 1 hour (sometimes less) for my break, and they want me to use that as "work time" scheduling meetings but don't want to pay employees time for that.

Second EDIT: I actually went to some of these meetings (about 20% of them). I never charged "Lunch and Learn" because I realize it's volunteer based, but I went to only one "mandatory" business meeting and actually charged it. The week after (when they do the pay) they actually pay that time, because it's the law, but they ask me to not charge it again because it's free-will and not required. But I really feel like the black sheep as the only one to pass this.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 3:17
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    After reading through all of this, if I were in your shoes I would maybe not start actively seeking a different job, but I would update my resume/cv and at least put out feelers. If my supervisor wasn't sympathetic to the situation then I would mentally note there is a culture/ethics mismatch that to me seems too big to be sustainable and I would be quietly looking for a better fit. Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 11:57
  • How are your coleagues dealing with this ? From the post it seems that you are the only one who has a problem with this. Have you talked to any of them about this ?
    – user1199
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 21:22
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    I don't think the problem is simply the break; I also think that if your boss wants to make these events mandatory he needs to pay you.
    – Casey
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 22:19
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    Others have suggested talking and then taking legal action if necessary. I agree with that, however instead of asking your boss about it in person, I would e-mail them (and save the e-mails). That way if they deny giving you an unpaid break, and require you to attend those meetings unpaid you have proof so the legal battle can't turn into a 'he said/she said' debate.
    – Amanda R.
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 19:28

11 Answers 11


Am I required to do so?

Maybe not by law, but definitely by company culture, since the boss asked you to.

How can I approach my boss with this issue?

No need to make this complicated. Go to your boss, tell him that have been thinking about his request to "participate more" and wanted to clarify something. The thing you wanted to clarify is what you should do about your lunch break. Tell him that a lunch break is very important to you as it allows you to clear your mind and thus be more productive. Then ask if you should take your lunch break before the meetings or after. If he says the meeting is your lunch break, ask if you should be charging time for it. If he says no and this is a big deal for you, I suggest you look for a new job at a company that respects your time. If he says yes you should be charging time, the company has, in effect, determined that these meetings make you more productive than your break. You may disagree with that, but there is little you can do about it.

Update after comments and edit
You mention that some meetings are "lunch and learn" and some are "project meetings". For "lunch and learn" type meetings, you may just have to bite the bullet and attend 2 or 3 a month and see if your manager says anything else. For "project meetings" I would simply change how I ask the question I suggested earlier in this answer.

"Boss, it looks like we have an important project meeting scheduled during my normal lunch break this week on Thursday. I'm planning on taking my lunch break early that day so I can be sure to attend the project meeting. So I'll be on lunch break from 11-12 that day so I can attend the meeting from 12-1."

Then you are only taking a 1 hour break for lunch and charging the meeting as you should be.

Update after some more details
With the additional detail added to the question, it sounds like you have tried to be accommodating. You are attending 20% of the lunch-and-learns, not charging. You attended an important lunch meeting, charged it, were paid for it, but told not to charge that any more. Apparently this is not meeting company culture. While I applaud you for trying to play the office politics, it sounds like it wasn't enough for them. Ultimately you need to ask yourself if you are willing to change to match the company culture even more or if it is time to start looking for a new company to work for. They have "non-mandatory" meetings that they want you to attend more of, without being paid. If you don't comply, this could affect career growth with that company.

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    Regarding "If he says yes you should be charging time, the company has, in effect, determined that these meetings make you more productive than your break". Surely an employee is legally entitled to a lunch break, regardless of whether or not a boss is paying them for time spent at a compulsory meeting? Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 13:58
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    @SuperBiasedMan agreed 100%, but unfortunately the OPs company culture may be otherwise. And while they can say "these meetings are not mandatory" so you still get your legally entitled lunch break, they can also choose to pass you up for promotions/raises/etc or let you go first during down times because "you don't fit the company culture".
    – mikeazo
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 14:06
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    If he says yes, charge the time, then it is not your lunch break and you take your lunch break at a different time. We have project meeting at lunch often due to trying to get people together at the same time who work in different geographical locations and time zones, everyone takes their lunch before or after.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 14:07
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    @Carlos2W, then ultimately you need to ask yourself if you are willing to change to match the company culture or if it is time to start looking for a new company to work for. They have "non-mandatory" meetings that they want you to attend more of, without being paid. If you don't comply, this could affect career growth with that company.
    – mikeazo
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 14:53
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    @mikeazo "you don't fit the company culture" Actually, they can't (legally). Imagine the "break" we are talking about was "maternity leave", and similarly "company culture had you not take it". Imagine being fired because "you don't fit the company culture". in practice, I'm not sure you could prove the case...
    – Aron
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 4:30

Try to take your lunch later (but still unpaid).

Requiring you to work through mandated breaks is probably illegal. If your company is holding work meetings during your unpaid lunch, document this and track how often you attend these meetings and your communication that mandates them. It is likely should you pursue legal action with your department of labor you would be eligible for back-pay for this, particularly if your company expected you to not take an unpaid break.

Approach this with your boss like, "when should I take my unpaid lunch break?" Find a way to make it your bosses problem - if your boss refuses to let you take your paid lunch break, then your options are basically:

  • Deal with it
  • Sue them
  • Quit

Try to avoid bringing up the legal aspect because this will put them on the defensive. Something like:

  • "Hey boss, my understanding is we have a X min unpaid break every day. It sounds like you guys often have work related meetings when I normally take this, what problems do you see if I take this before/after these meetings? It's important to me to have a break as I am a lot more productive than if I work all day straight through."

It is important to frame it from the perspective of, "saying no is denying a break." Notice that there is no easy way for your boss to say "no" without basically saying "work through your unpaid break."

You then have to decide how important it is to you to have your unpaid break. None of us here can tell you this - every job has some level of sacrifice of personal time occasionally.

Ultimately, if you cannot reconcile this, I would recommend at least talking to your local employment agency. They may have guidance.

  • 6
    "Requiring you to work through mandated breaks is probably illegal". It is only if you don't pay (In canada). They can mandate you to stay but have to pay you. The trick part about my situation is that they don't pay, but also says "it's not mandatory" but strongly recommended. And that's their law shield.
    – Carlos2W
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 15:04
  • 3
    @Carlos2W that's exactly why I suggest the approach I do - you make the burden on your boss for facilitating your unpaid and mandated break.
    – enderland
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 15:05
  • Surely, you can both quit and sue them; yes? ;)
    – jpmc26
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 17:34
  • This answer is hovering on the edge of legal advice and actual effective anti corporate brainwashing (for lack of a better phrase) advice. This approach is bound to complicate things more so by making the manager "tell" the OP to attend the unpaid meeting break and not get an actual break and thus straining the relationship. Best bet: get a new job or different manager/department that doesn't do these "corporate mixers" on your time.
    – G.T.D.
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 22:56
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    "every job has some level of sacrifice of personal time occasionally." This is not true. I can recall multiple examples where this is not the case.
    – TOOGAM
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 3:04

Make sure this actually breaks the work laws in your province.

In Ontario, for example, there are several exemptions to the typical labor laws that apply to IT professionals. Here are the ones that might apply:

Information technology professionals are not covered by the daily and weekly limits on hours of work. O. Reg. 285/01, s. 4(3)(b)

Information technology professionals are not covered by the daily rest period rule. O. Reg. 285/01, s. 4(3)(b)

Information technology professionals are not covered by the time off between shifts rule. O. Reg. 285/01, s. 4(3)(b)

Information technology professionals are not entitled to an eating period. O. Reg. 285/01, s. 4(3)(b)

This of course assumes you work in Ontario.

  • 64
    Remind me not to move to Ontario. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 15:39
  • 11
    Most places have exclusions if you drill down enough, or go to the States where they can largely fire you on any whim. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 15:49
  • 2
    @TheWanderingDevManager Lunch and other breaks are protected based on number of hours worked (> 6 means 30min lunch minimum, period). Indiana is indeed at-will, however that has no teeth in practice for a couple of reasons: companies will go to absurd lengths to avoid paying unemployment meaning they will generally only fire for cause, and in the public sector (I work for the state gov) that is doubly true as it can take 6-18 months to replace people in skill positions. Modulo mass-downsizings. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 16:13
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    The list of things that will actually get one insta-termed at a government or megacorp job in the Midwest US is vanishingly small (sexual harrasment, stealing, etc). In situations like the OPs, I've generally seen companies try to make life as miserable as possible for the malcontent without actually firing/disciplining. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 16:14
  • 3
    OK, but none of these are what the OP is talking about; namely, an unpaid, but mandatory event for hourly workers.
    – Casey
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 22:18

Could you compromise by, on the days your boss feels it is necessary you attend, take your unpaid break before or after the meeting?

You'll still be there for the department meeting (which in my opinion is work, not a break) and enjoy your break away from the office. Granted, it might not be at the same time as your normal lunch hour, but I would feel that a small price to pay for participating in meetings where important information might be discussed, and it show good will to your boss.


Assuming you're correct about the law, which I am not in any position to assess, the question in effect is, "how do I defend my legal right against my employer in this situation?". You should of course get some kind of individual advice to ensure that your reading of the law is correct and applicable to your case, before doing anything drastic. But as you present it this seems pretty simple:

  • the law entitles you to the employer's choice of either a 30 minute unpaid break, or a 30 minute paid break in which you must remain in the office.
  • on days where you boss requires you to attend a lunch-time meeting you are not getting the break to which you are legally entitled.
  • your company is arranging important meetings to discuss projects, but not recognising that this is work and must be paid.

So something has to give there. First, appeal to your employer to give you your legally-mandated 30 minute break. Just approach your boss describing the problem and offering what you see as the solution. "There's an important lunch-time meeting you want me to attend, but accounts have told me they're optional and I shouldn't charge them. I'll attend meetings where they're needed for my work, but I need to get paid and I need the legal-minimum 30 minute break. What time can I take my break, and what can we say to accounts to sort this out?"

If that doesn't work decide whether to raise a formal grievance within the company. Somewhere along this process, they will explain to you how it is that in their understanding they are not breaking the law, which will help you decide how to respond.

The reason grievances often work is that a grown-up: someone in HR or senior management, can decide whether your boss is being unreasonable. If account are saying the meetings are optional and your boss is saying they are not, then it may be that HR or senior management will agree with accounts. Often they back managers, of course, there must be a reason they made them managers. But once they consider the legal situation there's a reasonable chance they will overrule one manager in preference to setting themselves up to lose a future lawsuit. Internal complaints needn't necessarily be acrimonious: if your boss wasn't aware of the law, and accepts correction, and you refrain from gloating, then it might be over and behind you fairly quickly.

If that doesn't work decide whether to take it up with the authority responsible for enforcing labour laws (who will also tell you pretty quickly if you're wrong about the law).

I don't think anyone here can tell you whether or not you should back down and accept unlawful working conditions, neither can they tell you whether or not you should quit the job rather than deal with the hassle. We don't know how important this job is to you, but it sounds like your break is important to you and so you probably should not just accept it.

Furthermore you need to be prepared to deal with a certain amount of run-around that might happen:

  • Maybe your boss tells you this is obligatory, but the accounts department says it's optional and won't let you record it as time worked. You have to push through this one: start by telling the accounts department that although it may be optional for many people, in your particular case it has been made non-optional and therefore they have to pay you. If they refuse to pay you then go back to your boss and say the accounts department won't let him make this obligatory for you and so you will not attend. It's hard to call this a "win", but once your boss and accounts are directly disagreeing with each other you can jump out of the way and let them reach a decision between the two of them as to whether or not your boss has the authority to require you to attend the meeting.

  • Maybe your employer says that the meeting is a break (with boss and accounts in agreement). Then by the law they still have to pay you for it since it occurs in the office, which they aren't doing and you can complain about that. And furthermore you can complain that anyway it's not a break, it's a meeting, so you still are not getting your break. You can then take that to grievance/authorities if necessary.

The most reasonable solution all around would be if they require you to attend the meeting, pay you for doing so, and then they also give you a 30 minute unpaid break at some other time on those days. If they won't see reason then your basic options are (a) suck it up and tolerate unlawful working conditions; (b) leave; (c) report it. (c) often leads eventually to (b), especially if your managers are not inclined to be philosophical about losing the odd legal battle.

It's all true that "company culture" may be that employees waive these entitlements, but labour law is there for a reason, and part of the reason is that employers benefit from (intentionally or negligently) fostering a "company culture" of letting them walk all over you. One sign of a good employer in this respect, is when management are going to staff and instructing them, "take your breaks, take your PTO, and report all hours worked no matter what".

What you have is different in magnitude, but not in kind, from "company culture" dictating that the one pregnant woman in the workplace waive her maternity leave entitlements, or that the one person in the workplace who gets sick waive their sick pay entitlements. The fact that other people don't feel the need for a break doesn't really signify except in that it leaves you as the muggins who has to decide whether it's worth the effort to fight your employer's crooked practices. Ultimately, even some murderers do get away with it, never mind workplace legislation violations...

Final thing, and this can be legally complicated, but if people are holding project-related meetings "of their own free will" in time the company doesn't let them record, then in certain circumstances under-reporting of hours worked might be a specific offence or might constitute fraud. This comes up most commonly on government contracts, but there may be other contracts where the client has stipulated accurate time reporting, not merely that all hours billed were actually worked.


From the comments there seem to be 2 things here:

  1. Lunch and learn sessions - Yes these are usually optional, but from a culture point of view it is good to attend these things, you may even learn something useful. Usually one of your colleagues has spent their own time preparing this, so you should attend at least some of them.
  2. Lunchtime meetings - now assuming this is actual project/work related, you need to attend these. Normal courtesy is you would either take your lunch to fit this (earlier/later) or reclaim the time (leave early/come in late the next day).

I don't quite get your comment about 2 hrs unpaid, if you are in a meeting over lunchtime that is on the clock, a lunch/learn isn't but you are being "repaid" in developing.

The employment law is important, but most companies do a bit of (employee sanctioned) give and take to balance. Failing that as you say your lunch should be a "paid one if they require employees to stay at the office".

Interesting that this has come up as part of your boss asking you to "participate more", in my experience as a manager, timekeeping and participation are usually part of a bigger performance issue, so maybe something else going on. Usually the star player gets leeway on timekeeping/participation as they are making a big contribution otherwise.

  • 5
    Lunch and learns should most definitely also be on the clock. They are work.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 14:05
  • 1
    Only if mandatory, but if not the good ones at least buy the lunch Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 14:08
  • 2
    Where it is tricky is when they are "not mandatory" but everyone except 1 person attends all of them and that 1 person attends none. That seems to be the situation here.
    – mikeazo
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 14:10
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    Even if not mandatory, they are work. I don't allow people to schedule training sessions during lunch because that is illegal. Your project plan should allow time for this if it is needed during regular work hours.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 14:12
  • 2
    @TheWanderingDevManager It's both, sometimes about training, sometimes about direct job projects. In both case, they won't pay. And because they says "not mandatory" they get their law shield (QC, Canada). They can't fire me because of this, but they make me feel like the blacksheep. They say importants infos in these lunch I miss and when I ask question about it, they reply "Maybe you should have been there".
    – Carlos2W
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 15:41

How much leeway do you have in your hours in general?

If the company if flexible about hours, if it makes no big deal if you run a personal errand on company time, or leave early because work is slow today, etc, then for them to ask you to effectively give up a lunch break now and then could just be balancing things out. I've had jobs like that. Sometimes I worked more than the theoretical number of hours for the week, sometimes less, and as far as I was concerned it basically evened out.

If the company is very inflexible about hours -- "You must be at your desk working from the official starting time to the official quitting time. And if you decide to take time off work to go to the hospital emergency room because you are having a heart attack, you must take vacation time for those hours, and this leave must be scheduled and approved at least two weeks in advance" -- and then they turn around and insist you give up scheduled break times, well that's just inconsistent and unfair. I wouldn't necessarily quit over such a thing. If the company was generally wonderful to work for, I might accept this as tolerable. But I'd certainly see it as a negative factor.

As to, in practice, what can you do?

  1. You could simply refuse to go, asserting that this is your break time. Before I did this I'd gauge what the likely reaction would be, based on how the company treats employees in general. Reactions could range from "yes, that's reasonable, I understand your position" to "you're fired". Or if they can't legally fire you given your contract or the laws of your country, I'm sure they could pass you over for promotions -- "lack of loyalty to the company", "doesn't work hard enough", etc -- or "punish" you with undesirable assignments, etc.

  2. Politely discuss the issue with your boss. You might suggest alternatives. Like as others have suggested, can you take a break before or after the meeting?

  3. Just put up with it. If you think it's a good job for other reasons -- good pay, interesting work, lots of vacation time, whatever -- you can just say oh well, nothing is perfect, I take the bad with the good.


Why do colleagues accept it?

One of the key problems seems to be that you are the reluctant one, in a field where all others follow the suggestions. Regardless of the situation, it should make you wonder why this is happening. Here are some causes and suggested actions:

  1. They do get paid (probably not): Make sure you get paid too
  2. They never thought about it: Consider to talk to others about it (though they may stab you in the back if you don't do this in a cautious way)
  3. They are insecure in their position: If you feel as insecure as them, perhaps the best thing is to just accept it
  4. It does feel like a break for them: See below

What is a break?

Ask yourself: if my colleagues feel like they have a break after such a session, why don't you?

Again some possible causes and suggested actions:

  1. You feel extorted: Either just relax, or take action by talking to your boss about an agreement, or (announcing that) you will just keep claiming the time.
  2. You don't get to relax: Consider just sitting back and relaxing whilst you are in the meeting room. Of course you should not try to be rude, but you don't need to be as focussed as you are having lunch.
  3. You can't rest your eyes: Find a seat where you don't look at the screen automatically, and just cast a glance there now and then.
  4. You don't get what you need (to do your thing/fresh air/nice food): Make a habit out of going outside/doing your thing EVERY break when you have the chance. After you have been doing that for a while, you can more easily make a point that these meetings disrupt your routine, hopefully leading to more understanding.

I'll answer this short and clear. You call this a "lunch meeting" It however is comparable to talks lots of bigger companies do after work hours. Not attending to these however should be allowed. Many companies however want people who are interested in things in the industry and are eager to invest time to develop (by attending such meetings).

So you're just showing you're not interested. Don't like it? probably better to move on because the opinion of others won't change.


Are you sure your boss is essentially "requiring" you to attend the meetings or is it possible that your boss is trying to help you become more successful and giving you advice on how to become more "visible" and integrated into the team? Maybe your boss has heard others talk and is giving some advice to alleviate their concerns.

While most people don't like office politics, it is pretty much a necessity to play the game at some level if you want to succeed.

You didn't mention that others complain about these meetings. So perhaps, most of the staff views "being part of the team" as including enjoying the camaraderie of having lunch with each other. Those who choose not to participate might give the impression that they don't want to be "part of the team".

I've worked at companies where everyone likes hanging out with each other and that includes frequent lunch outings. I've also worked at places where people act like it is a punishment to spend time with co-workers and they are doing a big favor by doing something simple like going out to lunch with you. It sounds like you prefer the latter type of environment. Perhaps next time you interview you should ask questions about the team interactions and avoid the places that tell you "we like to do activities with each other".

2 to 3 meetings per week sounds like a lot, perhaps a win-win situation would be for you to attend 1 meeting per week. Also, maybe asking a couple people to lunch 1 or 2 times a month might help offset concerns about your not wanting to be part of the team, if this is indeed the real issue.

  • 2
    "Perhaps next time you interview you should ask" ... whether the employer is telling the truth about hours and pay, or whether they require frequent scheduled unpaid overtime ;-) Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 10:33

First ask yourself...

If you go to HR about the meetings, expect your boss to push back on everything you have ever done in company time that is questionable. Likewise if your boss does not like you, expect to get smaller pay increase.

If you have a union, talking to them may help, but your boss will know who the trouble maker is.

One option is to record all the meetings, along with an email to your boss explaining that you will now attend them, as he has make it clear it is expected for you to do so. Then after you have left for a new job, and got a good reference, speak to a employment lawyer about making a claim for the unpaid hours. But it will get out what you have done, and other employers will avoid you due to it.

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