I work in a seasonal (summer lifeguard) position in Colorado where most of my time is spent out in the sun or doing physical labor of some sort. It isn't particularly arduous work, but it can be tiring. I work with mostly young adults or minors (ages 16-21), and our manager, who I will call 'L,' is about 26.

I've worked at this location for a few years, in which we've had multiple managers. This is L's first year. This year, our hours-per-shift have increased to 6 or 7 hours, which according to state law requires us to take 30 minute unpaid break, and a few 10 minute paid breaks. Besides, company policy guarantees us these breaks plus more.

The problem arises because often we will be scheduled to perform certain tasks, such as guarding, and we won't be scheduled breaks. Most days nobody will take the required breaks.

I've mentioned it informally to L. About a month ago, I emailed what's written in state law and in our employee handbook, after a coworker disputed what I said about the breaks. There was no change. I mentioned it again when we had about 3/4 of our staff on a busy day, where some were working up to 12 hours, with no breaks scheduled. I was dismissed when I brought it up.

Personally, I don't mind not taking the breaks. I don't experience heat exhaustion or dehydration during my shifts. However, I worry that other workers will be, which will become a safety hazard (the workers in my position are responsible for other individuals safety).

If I report this to HR, I would be undermining L. What should I do?

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    I would not say you're undermining L by going to HR. You approached L, nothing happened. As you mentioned, this goes against labor laws and company policy. Also, you may not need these breaks now, but in the future you might and you shouldn't have to fight to make it happen
    – cheshire
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 18:56
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 4:44
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    @Mazura I understand now. However, your point isn't valid in my workplace environment. As a lifeguard, you cannot simply abandon your duties to grab a drink of water -- that puts swimmers at risk. Thus, it is the manager's duty to schedule our breaks, as they are the one scheduling our rotation when to guard. Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 23:19
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    I was just about to say what @zero298 said, but I feel it is so important I will repeat it: Back yourself up on this! Surely have your email conversation with L stored, as well as dates and occasions when you raised it verbally noted down. It's for your own sake, should something serious happen during your shift. Also, this your initiative can back your colleagues up if something serious happened during their shift.
    – yo'
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 18:25
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    @Mazura labor laws also have provisions against retaliation, too... so they'd better build a compelling case that they dismissed the person for reasons other than wanting a legally entitled break, or they're going to have a Bad Time™.
    – Doktor J
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 18:26

5 Answers 5


Bottom line, L is risking your health and creating liability for the company.

Personally, I wouldn't want to swim anywhere where the lifeguards are fatigued.

While I will always remind people that HR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND, this is one case where your interests, and HR's interests align.

IF something happens due to fatigue, or if someone decides to sue, your employer will be facing a very public and very embarrassing situation.

I almost never say this but....


  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 23:00

I guess I have some occupation-specific feedback on this.

I was a lifeguard at facility pools and a large public beach for many years. It is standard policy to rotate lifeguards regularly, including "down-time" for a reason.

If a lifeguard gets mentally stale, bored, or zones out, people can DIE.

If the manager does not act, you have to go to other managers or higher administration. This is a massive liability issue, from their perspective, so they probably will act on something like this.

Someone in need of assistance needs to be seen, identified and recognized as needing assistance, instantly, which is only possible through constant and alert monitoring and vigilance. Missing someone in trouble for even a brief period of time is the difference between a scary, but not harmful (long-term) event and serious injury or death. Even if you don't mind not getting breaks, someone who may need assistance for themselves or a loved one will mind, and don't want that left up to chance.

The entire point of having lifeguards is to insure safety for the patrons.

  • Having never been to a pool or beach that employed lifeguards - is this not a tad exaggerated? It Always kind of seemed like security theater to me...
    – Weckar E.
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 7:50
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    @WeckarE. Every public swimming place (in the UK) that I've visited has lifeguards, though only ones that are regularly maintained by some authority (local pools, seaside town beaches etc.). Rural "beauty spot" beaches tend not to, nor will they have safe swimming buoys which we are taught to look for as children. Just bear in mind that because you can't see the lifeguard, doesn't mean they're not watching from their station. On a beach you can see the entire water area from an elevated position on the promenade compared to being on the beach itself, at water level. Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 8:01
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    @WeckarE. That would be because you never saw a lifeguard having to save anyone. When I was a lifeguard the majority of the job was standing around watching and answering questions from customers. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't be alert to help someone in danger immediately though. The main point I believe Polo is making is that they need to be able to react straight away and any delay due to fatigue is a major issue for the company and can even put lives at risk. Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 9:21
  • @WeckarE. I wouldn't say it's exaggerated, and it's probably why so many places don't have lifeguards: liability. It's easier, cheaper and less risky to put up a sign disclaiming liability than it is to hire lifeguards.
    – mattumotu
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 10:30
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    @WeckarE. - If an area is managed and made to be available, then they are responsible and liable for the safety of those who are there. If someone swims in an area not managed, they assume the risk themselves. If they go somewhere that is managed, then much of the responsibility for safety falls on those who manage. Even as a lifeguard, I thought the rigor was a bit much, until I had to perform CPR on an eight year old who almost drown right in front of a lifeguard tower when the lifeguard was not paying attention. A lot of people go to public places and go in not knowing how to swim. Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 13:39

One of HR's main mandates is ensuring that the company is in legal compliance in how they handle their employees. Your young, inexperienced manager doesn't see this as important and is taking risks and making messes because of it. Either it's found out prior to the company being cited for underpayment and HR/payroll has a huge headache sorting it out or somebody complains to the labor department and legal/HR/payroll has a huge headache with the fine along with sorting it out.

On the client side of the legal risk, imagine if somebody drowns in your pool and in the course of the investigation it comes to light that lifeguards were not provided breaks as per company policy. Your company would likely be found liable as they are not providing the level of protection to their clients that they themselves have deemed necessary.

Not rocking the boat is not the correct course of action when it comes to safety. Report this to HR and keep moving up the chain if nothing happens. You are going to have a heavy conscience if something happens to a client because a coworker is having trouble concentrating at the end of a long shift.

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    agree, but just want to point out... if it comes to light? OP's emails are in the system - that alone could be damning, and the replies (if any) could be even more so.
    – Jeutnarg
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 19:57
  • Yeah, IF. They could get lucky and never have an incident. Then it would not matter what they are doing, it would not come to light.
    – Shane
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 21:28
  • And not just for an incident. Say someone decides to sue for $$$ because they weren't given their paid breaks? The company would be fined and have to pay EVERYONE. Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 18:07
  • @RichardU Even if they aren't sued, this manager has created a pile of work for HR/payroll in fixing this as they are going to have to sort out all underpayments to employees for the matter to be fully resolved.
    – Myles
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 18:29
  • @Myles you've got a few good comments here, why not incorporate them into your answer? It's a good answer. Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 18:32

To start with, its important to summarise lifeguarding basics.

Lifeguarding is about saving life. It requires intense concentration without a break - the 10:20 system is common, and a good example, requiring a lifeguard to scan the place looking for that one possible person silently in trouble, once every 10 seconds, for long periods of time, continually.

That is why these breaks are crucial. Not just because of employment law, but because visitors lives depend on intense constant focus, and few people can focus that way for more than a short time without a break.

As other answers say, go to the line manager or HR. If they won't listen, then you may want to consider if your responsibilities lie with the employer or the visitors.


You want breaks? Okay. But, do you need scheduled breaks?

I have definitely heard of an "on duty" break shift. The idea is this: if a person watches a store with low traffic, they can take a break when they want to. If 26 minutes into the break, a customer actually comes in, that doesn't mean the employee should get another 30 minutes of unbroken break.

Here is another story, as told to me by a manager of a very slow restaurant where I worked. The entire fast food restaurant could often have 5 customers an hour. At one point, some young workers complained about not everyone getting scheduled all their official 10 minute breaks. The State's Labor Board investigated. The state labor board representative said there was no problem. The laws about requiring breaks were intended for factory workers on assembly lines where they are physically working non-stop. These workers had gigantic amount of time to relax, chat with their co-worker friends at length, etc. These people were essentially on break for much of their shift, and the young workers' claims of not having breaks were dismissed as groundless.

In other words: what was officially written in the law did not really match the spirit of the law or how it was enforced.

I bring up these examples as viewpoints that may be contrary to some of the other answers. What is legally required and enforceable will vary based on factors like where you are working (and possibly be dependent on other details like the size of the employer you're serving, and your industry, etc.)

If you are physically moving at all times, and do other maintenance work, your position may be a lot stronger than if you frequently get to sit atop a tall chair, able to dump water on yourself, and make experienced judgement calls about the skill of the swimmers, how they are behaving, and other factors of how much the situation does or does not seem to be in control.

Ultimately, I don't wish to provide any advice based on a stance that opposes the general consensus as stated by others. However, before making waves (how punny), at least knowing these counter-positions may be helpful.

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    Concerns were raised about the validity of this answer in a global perspective, particularly because many countries and states do have restritctions and rules on how breaks should be organized. That dicussion has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 12:57

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