A reader writes:
My boss has a problem with people eating at their desks. A lot of our staff has to travel a far way and sit in horrible traffic to get to the office; is it reasonable for him to ban staff from say eating a pastry or cereal at their desk in the morning while checking their emails? Also, if people are really busy, they will take their lunch to their desk and eat while they work — he strongly dislikes it. We are an open, friendly office — does he have the right to ban people from eating at their desk?
I would hate this boss. I’ve been known to have what appears to be an entire buffet spread out on my desk at times. I am huge fan of eating at my desk. In fact, I’m pretty sure that for six years, I had both breakfast and lunch at my desk every day. And I would have been really annoyed if someone had told me I couldn’t do that — particularly lunch, since eating it there meant that I was doing more work than I would have otherwise had time for.
Anyway, enough about my love of eating. To your question:
Legally, yes, he can prohibit you from eating at your desks. But as is so often the case, what’s legal is different from what’s sensible.
I’d want to know more about his reasoning: Does he think it looks unprofessional? Is he worried about crumbs in your keyboards? Does he think people can’t focus on work when a distracting muffin is nearby? Find out what his real worry is, and then you can more effectively respond to it.