boss doesn’t want any food at our desks

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.

{ 89 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Is it possible that this is an exempt/not exempt issue? If you have a half hour for lunch that you don’t get paid for and you don’t take that break because you are working at your desk that could be an issue.

    I had a supervisor kick me out once because she noticed I hadn’t left my desk since I’d gotten in. Not ok because I’m not exempt. I was just really into the work.

    1. GeekChic*

      That’s a good idea. At a previous job we weren’t permitted to eat or otherwise take breaks at our desks because the supervisors actually wanted us to TAKE our breaks.

      1. Long Time Admin*

        I worked at W*****t home office, and lunch breaks are required. No one is allowed to skip their lunch break. We did eat snacks at our desks, though. No rule about that. And people had “food days” in the departments all the time.

  2. KayDay*

    A few more questions (from a very sympathetic reader): Do a lot of visitors, guests, customers, etc. come into the office? Do you have a really open office plan or are there cubicles with walls (or private offices)? Does your building have a bad mouse problem? If there is a legitimate reason for his feelings, maybe you could just see if it’s possible to create comfortable break room where employees could eat (spare office + unused/craigslist furniture + old computer for email/check your email on your phone). I know this isn’t always possible, but it may be worth considering.

    Honestly, though, it might be good for everyone–I’ve gained about 15 pounds since starting my professional office job(s) and I blame it on all the eating I do at my desk. I have my big bowl of soup and coke on my desk right now. And left over Halloween candy =P I’d probably eat less if I had to get away from my desk to do so.

    1. Anonymous*

      I agree with your post. The OP did not state if the boss said why they cannot eat at their desks, so any of the above reasons you mentioned could be his reason(s).

      At my office we were banned from eating at our desks for a short time. The #1 reason for the ban was because some employees would eat lunch at their desk, and then ask to leave work an hour early claiming that they didn’t take a “lunch break”. While small businesses may not mind this, our company is large and they do not want to take the risk of anyone saying that they did not get all of their scheduled breaks (15 mins in the morning, 1 hour for lunch, and a 15 min break in the afternoon). They had let a couple of people slide doing that, but then more and more people wanted to do it and they had to put a stop to it.

      That rule was hard for me for a few reasons: #1 was that there is no break room on my side of the building, #2 I simply cannot afford to eat out every day, and #3 I live way too far away to go home for lunch. So now those of us with private offices can eat at our desks but we must close our doors. The employees that are out in the open must go and eat in the break room. To our boss, it looks bad when a customer comes in and sees someone eating at their desk. A lot of the time the customer just assumes that the employee is slacking off. I know that sounds silly, but you would be surprised how many times I have heard that.

      One other reason is that they do not want to risk anyone spilling drinks onto their computers. I keep a drink at my desk, but it is not near my computer. As long as it is far enough away from the computer that it wouldn’t spill on it, it’s okay.

      1. fposte*

        I was wondering if the ban included beverages. I know a few coffee drinkers who’d struggle with that.

      2. Kim Stiens*

        The part about people leaving early is worth mentioning… in a non-exempt environment, it’s usually illegal for an employer to let people go early in exchange for the employee not using their breaks (whether or not the offer begins with the employer or employee). The law does state that a non-exempt employee must be completely relieved of duties during a break, so making sure people are away from their desks is probably the best way to accomplish that.
        If this is the case, OP should feel fortunate that they have an employer that gives a shit about labor law! Could be a lot worse!

    2. Riki*

      The first thing I thought of was vermin. I used to work in a building with a big issue with mice. We could eat in the conference room but not at our desks. My boss did not want to risk having the entire space become a giant crumb buffet.

      1. Long Time Admin*

        Funny story about mice.

        One place I worked was near an open field, and in the fall the mice would look for a nice warm place to live over the winter. They frequently chose our building. We were told to keep all food in tupperware or metal containers with tight lids. One of the girls kept a big bag of trail mix in her top desk drawer. She also had a t-shirt in there that the company had given out. So one morning, she opened her drawer and without looking, grabbed some trail mix and gobbled it down. She went to get some more, and this time she looked in her drawer and saw little brown things on the shirt. After checking further, she saw the bag of trail mix had been nibbled at one corner.

        She had made a real nice little mouse bed-and-breakfast in her desk drawer.

  3. CK*

    Agree with AAM – find out why he dislikes people eating at their desks. It may be a very valid reason (or ridiculous… you never know).

    I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t eat at my desk. I’m a grazer and need to snack regularly, otherwise the sound of my stomach growling gets too distracting. Plus, when I eat my lunch at my desk, most of the time I’m surfing the web or reading a book, so to me it counts as a break – it just so happens that I choose to take it at my desk.

    1. Anonymous*

      I also surf the web or read while eating lunch at my desk, so to me that actually is taking a lunch break because it is one hour that I am not working, even though I am sitting at my desk.

    2. Malissa*

      Stomach growling can distract those around you too!
      I have a coworker who has a real issue with stomach growling. Nothing like everyone being heads down in their work, when her stomach decides to grumble loudly. Nothing like trying to get back to work after everyone stops laughing.

  4. Anonymous*

    Maybe the boss has Misophonia( As someone who also suffers from the disorder I can attest that lunch time is absolutely horrible in the workplace. We have one break room, which is also a cafeteria, to serve our entire building, however, the service provider at the cafeteria has signs posted that no outside food is to be brought in or they will ask you to leave. This leaves people eating at their desk. It also leads to me being entirely on edge and antsy for an entire hour to hour and a half while those that sit around me eat, slurp, clink silverware, chomp and salivate. Putting on headphones doesn’t work unless I am blaring music to the point that the eaters can hear it as well so I oftentimes am left having to leave my desk for at least half of lunch and just wander the building – entirely unproductive.

    You can bet that if I were the boss I would implement a no eating at your desk rule just to be able to comfortably do my work all day without feeling like I need to scream. I also wouldn’t announce to everyone that I have this strange condition that makes the sound of them eating seep into my brain and makes me want to snap.

    While it would suck to not be able to eat at your desk, it has to be better than the constant twitches and stress the sound of people eating brings.

      1. Anonymous*

        It’s actually a legitimate disorder. You can say I have a stick-in-my-ass but I can also say that that cavernous, salivating hole in your face makes me want to legitimately kill myself and or you when you are eating. It invokes a fight or flight response. Thankfully, I’ve always chosen flight, but there are times when I cannot physically get away from it, like in meetings, where I am so distracted that I cannot even hear other people’s words because I am so busy trying to white noise a person’s gum or cheetos chewing out with my brain that it becomes impossible to function.

        1. Jamie*

          This. Now I don’t expect my co-workers to accommodate this issue, because it’s my problem and it’s weird. But I have never heard of anyone outside of my immediate family who ever expressed this.

          So I would totally love to work with the anonymous above and have blissfully food free meetings.

          It’s weird though – because if I’m presenting I schedule carefully so it can’t possibly turn into a lunch meeting. It does cause a total inability to focus and an almost blinding rage…and I am a very rational functional person (outwardly). It’s bizarre how visceral the anger is.

          1. Anonymous*

            Exactly! Let’s start a company together! I tend to think of myself as pretty even-keeled most of the time, but it is an incredibly visceral anger. I didn’t know that there was a name for the disorder until the NY Times wrote that article. People thought I was crazy when I said I thought I had it, until I began describing what it feels like to hear someone chewing anything. Even thinking about it is making my skin crawl.

            1. Anonymous*

              I specifically cannot stand the sound of someone breathing. It’s to the point where my husband and I can’t share a bed because I will literally slap him in the face for breathing in the middle of the night, the rage gets so bad. I have anxiety about sleepovers, no longer allow house guests, it’s really bad…and totally related to the specific sound of breathing. If I can faintly hear a houseguest snoring in the living room, I see white. I will get hysterical…and I always thought I was just strange. I will get off a train if someone next to me is a mouth breather (and the rage is insane – and I’m a normally functional person otherwise). Thank you for finally giving it a name!

            2. Anonymous*

              I’m the same, or almost. It’s the sounds that kill me. I can’t focus on anything else. I also don’t get the whole snacking thing – aren’t three meals a day enough?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Another way to look at it is that it doesn’t make sense to inconvenience many for the convenience of one, when there are other options that could be explored. For instance: The boss could keep his door closed at popular eating times. If that’s not enough insulation from the noise, he could also play low music or white noise.

    2. Jamie*

      OMG – I was typing my post below before you posted this.

      I had NO idea there was a name for this! I’m so sending this out to everyone in my family, since we’re all like that.

      And yes, it’s silly and possibly stick-in-the-ass syndrome (copyright poster below) but it’s just awesome to give my craziness a name.

      1. Kim Stiens*

        Yeah, I’m intrigued by the ADA implications of this. On the one hand, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to require employees to eat in a designated break room to accommodate someone with that disorder, but on the other, it IS a pain in the ass to make everyone do something inconvenient to accommodate that one employee. I wonder what would be considered “reasonable” versus “unreasonable?”

        1. fposte*

          If it doesn’t rise to the level of a disability, though, it doesn’t matter–the employer isn’t required to make an accommodation of any kind. And not all medical conditions rise to the level of a disability.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, based on what we know so far, it doesn’t sound like something that would be covered under the ADA (which only covers conditions that “significantly impact a major life function”).

      2. Anonymous*

        I’m curious why if an “employee” writes in with a medical condition/ personal gripe / pet peeve everyone thinks “reasonable accommodations” should be made for that person. In fact I bet the vast majority would also say that it would have to be done and respect their privacy.

        As soon as the “manager” has a medical condition/ personal gripe / pet peeve then they need to learn to deal with it. It is also being suggested that they have to explain why it is being done that way so they don’t get any privacy.

        Trust me I understand that the manager is there to facilitate the work getting done in the most efficient manner but why doesn’t the boss have the same rights that we strongly defend for the regular employees? In most cases the manager is simply a low level/mid-level manager who really is just a regular employee to those above them.

        1. Anonymous*

          It’s not that the manager shouldn’t have their medical issues accommodated and an employee should, or that managers don’t have rights (though none of this is technically about legal rights unless it gets into ADA territory.) It’s a question of how many people it affects, and how badly. Telling 20 people “You may never have a snack, or eat breakfast at work, and you must all cram into the kitchen to eat lunch standing up,” would be a much bigger inconvenience for a lot more people than telling one person, “If the sound of people eating bothers you, close your door and put some music on.”

          In offices that are better set up with break rooms than that hypothetical, or in an open cube environment where the manager *can’t* close their door, the balance might skew more toward the manager.

    3. Eric Rouleau*

      I’m an estimator with glass partitions and we hear everything in the office the guy behind me is chewing on chips as I write this and as soon as my partners get here I will sit down with them and let them know that we need a no eating policy at your desk or I will snap at this guy. He’s good guy probably does not realize it but I have express to all, any noise is disturbing when your trying to concentrate on a half a million dollar project or any project for that matter. So I understand you totally. We have a small kitchen go there.

  5. Jamie*

    Like others have said, I think it really depends on the reasons.

    Personally, I never ate at my desk when I shared an office or worked in an open floor plan. Huge pet peeve of mine having to hear someone eat or smell their food, so even if I couldn’t control my co-workers I wouldn’t contribute to the problem.

    I have my own office now, so I eat at my desk. However, I hate when people bring food into my office. Unless you’re silently eating odorless marshmallows – finish your snack and then come and talk to me.

    And if you have customers coming in, I do think it can seem unprofessional.

    Most people who eat breakfast at work can do so while working (bagel, muffin, whatever) but I’ve also worked with people who settle in for cereal for a good half hour, heck at one place I even worked with a woman who would cook bacon in the microwave every single morning. To those people I say get up earlier and eat at home…it’s an office not IHop.

    I would love to ban food at meetings. I cannot even find words to express how much I hate to hear people chew. Or smell their food. Or see them eat things I find disgusting, which is a ridiculously long list. I resent so much being a captive audience to that – I’ve experienced waves of serious anger at people I normally like because they are eating chips in a meeting I’m required to attend.

    Sorry – didn’t mean to derail with my own food issues – which I realize are crazy. I’ve actually bribed an office manager at a previous employer with real cash money not to order from one particular restaurant for a monthly meeting because their bread-sticks are extra noisy. I gave someone I barely knew $20 so I the crunching noises would be slightly quieter. I’m not well.

    I do think that while there are very valid reasons to ban food at desks, if you do then the employer is obligated to provide a lunch/break room which is easily accessible.

    1. Anonymous*

      THANK YOU! While I agree with AAM, it’s bad to inconvenience everyone for the convenience of yourself sometimes it is just entirely necessary. As long as you provide a break or lunch room why does it matter. An old coworker used to eat anchovies every lunch – imagine smelling that at noon every day…and then imagine the smell of the packaging festering in his garbage can until around 10 am the next day when maintenance came around to empty them.

      I work in an open office. Even the senior VP sitting in my area just has a cubicle. No one has offices with doors. It’s impossible to get away from it because everyone sees you running off to chat with the person on the other end of the room who eats at 12:30 at noon to get away from the person next to you. People see me as the slacker because they’re sitting at their desks eating.

      1. fposte*

        I’m still not seeing the “entirely necessary” to inconvenience everybody, though–this is getting into the question of what a reasonable accommodation is. (What about the poor soul in the article that has the same response to the letter “p,” after all?) And I also think that a reason like this would be even *more* important to communicate to the staff–if I’m going to unusually curtail them to protect me alone, I think it’s pretty unfair not to explain to them why I’m asking for it, and they’ll be likelier to be good sports about it if they know that it really makes life hard for me otherwise.

        1. Jamie*

          Speaking only for myself, I consider this solely my problem…the only person who should be accommodating my weird issues in this area is me.

          1. fposte*

            Who knows, maybe if there’s growing awareness somebody will come up with an additional tool for the toolbox; it’s not like it’s a good plan to have a good employee suffer, either.

            The easiest situations are the ones where you can avoid the “shoulds,” like the “try not to eat xxx near the pregnant lady” kind. People are generally pretty willing to be helpful if they’re included in the reason why. It’s just tougher when you’re talking something that’s really broadly effecting a regular practice and there’s little design to help you work around it. I’m remembering the candidate who had claustrophobia issues with closet-type offices–her possible suffering was real and significant, but it was more than a workplace might be able to accommodate. I thought she was wise for factoring that in to her considerations in advance as a result.

  6. Interviewer*

    My company has a similar policy, mainly enforced on the non-exempts. My state requires a 30-minute unpaid lunch break to be provided by employers after 6 hours of work. So no working straight through lunch. In addition, my company says that sitting at your desk creates the impression you are available for work, and often does lead to confusion for supervisors on when they can arrive at the desk and hand off work to others. Even just answering the phone could create a working lunch that must be paid. Yes, even with little signs that say “I’m at lunch, do not disturb.” (clearly, I’ve seen it all.) So to short-circuit the entire thing, we do not allow people to eat lunch at their desks.

    But nothing at all? To me, that sounds like someone’s had a hard time with drawing a bright line for everyone to see, so the blanket mandate was created. And yes, it’s legal to have that policy. So I’d find a way to get your meal before you arrive. Wake up earlier to eat at home, grab something to enjoy in the car, whatever it takes – it is the most important meal of the day, after all.

  7. Dawn*

    I can understand why an employer wouldn’t want people eating at their desk: clients walking through, possiblilty of spills on the computer equipment, stains on the carpet, etc. Also, most employers feel the employee should be able to get up early enough to eat breakfast at home. That being said, I don’t mind people eating at their desk, as long as they’re careful about it since there are several pieces of expensive computer equipment around them.

    I am someone who eats breakfast and lunch at my desk. Our breakroom is in the basement of a multi-client office building and it’s just too much of a hassle for me. Not to mention it’s like a dungeon. Who wants to eat in a dungeon? As for breakfast, I am one of those people that never get up early enough to cook for myself. Plus, the deli across the street makes an awesome sausage, egg and cheese sandwich. :)

  8. Anonymous*

    In the OP’s place I’d be counting minutes till the first person who raises medical issues. Doesn’t even have to be anything as serious as diabetes – simple stomach hyperacidity / ulcers management requires eating small amounts at regular intervals, often as short as two hours. It’s the reason I always have snacks on me in long meetings (though at meetings, I tend to excuse myself for that moment).

    1. fposte*

      Sure, but “medical issues” aren’t the same thing as “disability legally requiring accommodation.” (That’s especially true if it turns out there’s a break room somewhere that people don’t go to.) The people posting with misophonia have a medical issue too, after all.

      1. Anonymous*

        Try three flights of stairs and three little tables there that are always taken by someone out of the 200+ people.

  9. Kelly O*

    I’d probably ask the reasoning behind it too. Half the time, if I didn’t eat at my desk, I wouldn’t eat at all, especially this last year of motherhood (never mind during my pregnancy because of the gestational diabetes I was eating small meals every couple of hours which meant I had to eat at my desk.)

    While I empathize with people with food issues, I would argue that making rules for the whole office for one person seems a little selfish and the kind of thing that’s going to make for a less-pleasant work environment for your minions. I get annoyed listening to personal conversations people have in their cubes, or long, drawn-out arguments between coworkers about which way they’re turning their paper this week, but I have to deal with it. Were it up to me, I’d implement a policy about volume… okay, maybe that and picking up after yourself.

    When I’ve worked in customer-facing areas, I’ve kept things to a minimum, hidden drinks, even kept a drawer for stashing nuts or whatever in so I could quickly close it if needed. (And usually drinks aren’t an issue. Who expects their employees to go hours without at least some water?) Seems there may be room for compromise, or at least discussion. And if it’s vermin, then make sure people are picking up after themselves… wait, I think I covered that earlier under personal peeves.

  10. Joey*

    It’s interesting the way people phrase the question like there’s a list of workplace rights out there somewhere that say weird things like you have the right to eat at your desk.

  11. Uncle*

    It really depends on what kind of work environment you have. If you work in a semi-private cube like environment then I he’s over-reacting. If you work in an open command center or call center environment then NO… the sound/smells of you eating would drive some people up the wall.

  12. Cristina*

    I work in a very friendly company in the middle of a large city, where many of the staff have long commutes. For most of the staff, it would be unreasonable for us to eat at our desks. I work at a biotech where my desk area is attached to my bench space (there’s a small plexiglass shield between the surfaces). At my bench, I work with biohazardous samples (serum and cells) as do others around me. It would be a serious health hazard if we were allowed to eat and drink at our desk areas. Most of the biotechs I’ve worked have the desk space separate from bench space, but this really isn’t difficult to cope with in regards to snacking/drinking.

    1. Emily*

      What, if any, recreational or break space is available at your employer? Again, I think this is a matter of circumstances. I eat (rarely a full meal at lunch, but small snacks throughout the day, as has suited me nutritionally and logistically since grade school) at my desk, as do many of my coworkers in many different departments within the company and different areas of the building. I can think of a handful of employees for whom it would be impractical, but those groups–IT/Help Desk, front office and reception roles, mail services, art/design and production–all have a break room that’s conveniently located and big enough, with enough furniture, to accommodate 5-8 people preparing food and eating at lunch time.

      The kitchenette on my floor is the size of a phone booth. I commute two hours each way by public transportation, so I can’t take food to my car and sit in a parking lot. The park is a nice lunch spot when the weather’s nice. Some eat out every single day, but that doesn’t appeal to me at all, even if I could afford it. I have no idea where I would eat if I couldn’t have food at my desk–the ladies’ room? (Wouldn’t take long for someone to object to that!) I suppose I could use another department’s break room, but those spaces just aren’t designed to accommodate everyone in the building.

      At an old job, I remember looking for a break room just so I could eat with two friends a couple of times a week, and finding none. We tried sitting in a “reception” area (on a floor where I never saw a guest who wasn’t family in 12 months there) but we were shooed away. We considered reserving a conference room, but that didn’t seem appropriate, so we wound up sitting on stepladders or cartons of printer paper in one person’s cube. It didn’t seem to bother anyone; if anything, people thought it was “cute” that we got along well enough to hang out for half an hour a couple of times a week and chat over yogurt. In retrospect, it’s not surprising that none of us work for that company anymore, since socialization was discouraged and/or a novelty!

      Anyway, my point is, I understand enforcing rules about where employees can’t eat, and though employers aren’t obligated to provide a fully-appointed break space, it seems unethical not to allow an alternative if the boss is going to prohibit desk dining.

  13. Cowardly anon*

    My boss has not only banned eating, but also drinking anything other than water in the office. His rationalisation is that crumbs, wrappers, and disposed coffee cups in the bins could attract cockroaches (though these bins are emptied daily).

    You can imagine how much we love not being able to have so much as a coffee at the desk. But then again, he’s an ass and a bully. I recently resigned.

    (Wow, that was a bitter comment. Thank you, AAM, for giving me somewhere to vent!)

  14. Bob G*

    We have gone back and forth on this one where I work. The main reason is we have issues with people who gunk up their phones and keyboards with food. This usually isn’t a all at once type of thing but prolonged exposure to daily food bits, then when the keyboard or phone stops working it is an emergency that requires immediate attention. We also have several shared workstations that are used by rotating shifts so one person’s “eating neatly at my desk” is another person’s “big mess”. It is actually amazing and disgusting to see how some people eat at their desk.

    We do allow drinking at the desk but we strongly encourage (and provide) spill proof mugs.

    As a disclaimer we have a break room and it is 20 steps from outside of this work area with the shared workstations.

  15. Bitza*

    Yeah, I used to think eating at your desk was cool…until I ended up spending the first half hour of every work day listening to clinking silverware and glass plates and smelling the strong, garlicky scents of my coworker’s breakfast. Poster above was exactly right–this is an office, not a restaurant. Wake up a little bit earlier and eat at home, or bring a low-odor sandwich or burrito like a normal person. Geez!

  16. L*

    I have employees who eat their breakfast/lunch/snacks at their desk and then proceed to take their entire lunch time for themselves. I don’t think it is fair for you to eat your lunch on work time so you can go read for an hour on your lunch.

    1. Anonymous*

      We had a guy here who would take an hour to go get his lunch and not clock out, but then clock out when he came back to EAT it, while playing video games on his iPhone. So essentially he got a two hour lunch every day, because he didn’t work during any of that time.

      As long as your employees are doing work while eating at their desks, I don’t quite see the issue with them then wanting to take their hour lunchbreak for other purposes. For instance, I’ve often taken my lunch breaks for doctor appointments and eaten quietly at my desk afterward while working. Unless for some reason you’re in an environment where eating truly is distracting to your work, I don’t see the problem.

    2. Dawn*

      If the employee is eating and working at the same time, I don’t see a problem with taking the actual lunch break to read or something. However, if they are eating and surfing the net, then taking the break to surf the net some more or read or whatever, I’d have a problem with that.

  17. Joanna Reichert*

    If you’re really concerned about allowances during work hours – whether it’s smoke breaks, eating at the desk, or whatever you’d like accomodated – then you need to approach it from a “How would this be a positive for the company?”

    It’s a fact that keeping blood sugar levels up throughout the day is great for your health – and as it keeps you alert and not distracted with sluggishness and a noisy tummy, it helps your effectiveness too. That’s something that can be substantiated, and you can pose eating at your desk from this angle, instead of a can’t-help-but-sound-a-bit-whiny, “But I WANT to eat at my desk! Why won’t you let me?”

    Furthermore, not everyone likes to share their medical issues, and you don’t know who is affected greatly by their food intake, and in what ways they can optimize their performance by simply snacking.

    It’s interesting how you can become an adult without actually maturing – but it does happen frequently. No amount of cajoling will entice socially inept people to lift a finger to clean up after themselves. If the boss wants to impose ridiculous penalties for those who misuse the policy – gumming up their keyboard/phone, attracting vermin with spills and crumbs, etc. – that’s certainly his/her right and will probably keep their mind at ease about allowing food in the office in the first place.

  18. Anon.*

    After reading more replys to this, I’m seeing similarities to my niece’s grade school. She’s not allowed to bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school because of “Severe allergies.” Now, one of my best friends growing up was the kind of person who couldn’t even touch a surface that had any sort of nut residue on it without a trip to the hospital but she went to school and had a special table to sit at at lunch. If we didn’t bring any nutty foods to lunch that day we sat with her, if we did, other girls who hadn’t sat with her.

    Now? My niece (and sister who is now required to come up with other lunch foods) is inconvenienced because of the small population of her school that has nut allergies.

    It’s obnoxious. But, it’s the way our nation appears to be moving so if this manager has a reasonable and real reason for not allowing food he’s probably on par with other institutions that are inconveniencing everyone for the sake of a few.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’ve been dreading the nut allergy generation to joining the workforce–I like to keep peanut butter and jelly in the fridge and make sandwiches a lot for lunch (super cheap lunch!).

      But at the same time, I would willingly give up peanut butter to prevent someone from dying from a severe allergy. Some of the peanut allergies involve fatal reactions to even smelling peanuts (or so I’ve been told by school employees at schools with these bans), so I can see inconveniencing all for the life of one in those cases.

    2. KellyK*

      I think the nut thing is in a whole separate class, because it can be fatal. It’s worth inconveniencing an awful lot of people to avoid killing one person, where it’s not necessarily worth inconveniencing those same people just to avoid annoying one.

  19. Gene*

    We had one plant manager here who practically had kittens when one person took a bowl of oatmeal to her desk. His rule was “no bowls!” She put the same oatmeal into a cup and he was happy. Now it’s pretty much plant culture to put soup and the like into cups. :-)

    This was the same hugely anal guy who would make sure all the pencils, pens, pads, and other supplies in the supply closet were lined up and “properly” organized. He’s now in charge of disaster preparedness for the entire Public Works department; we have the best organized disaster supplies in the county!

  20. Lina*

    1. Food is not shameful. Everyone needs to eat. I don’t understand why so many people are so picky about it. As long as the employees are neat and polite eaters, there shouldn’t be an issue.
    2. Employees are human. These kinds of rules chip away from employee morale. I don’t want rules to be put in place that place restrictions on non-work-related activities. If it doesn’t affect my work, please let me decide.

    Plus, I don’t think coffee is going to attract cockroaches. That’s ridiculous.

    1. CJ*

      Agreed – this is such a great way to hurt employee morale and, ultimately, your organization. I can’t imagine working for such a micromanaging leader.

  21. Anonymous*

    I wish my employer would implement this. My cubemate eats nothing but fast food or nasty smelling leftovers at her desk and smacks, etc. and has no respect for anyone around her. Our desks are at the front so anyone who comes in can smell or hear her. It’s absolutely disgusting.

    1. KellyK*

      Why does a rule need to negatively affect a whole office rather than someone telling *her* to quit eating strong-smelling foods around her coworkers, and that she has to eat quietly?

      1. Anonymous*

        Honestly, because I don’t want to hear/smell it period, from anyone. We have a break room, everyone who eats needs to go there. It’s frowned upon for me to eat at my desk since I am at the front and anyone who walks in sees my desk, so why should anyone else do it when it affects others in the office? Our office has a very open concept within about 3000 sq ft, so you can hear everyone in the office. So, there are a lot of things I wish they would change. I could have a whole post on that!

      2. Anonymous*

        And this person was recently pregnant and ate NOTHING but greasy french fries and crap for 9 months and I had to listen to her puke constantly… this person aggravates me more than you could ever imagine… but I feel like complaining about her would be just that, complaining and wouldn’t accomplish anything.

  22. Julie*

    Depending on the person’s eating habits, I very often can’t stand hearing and seeing people scoff food at their desk whilst I am trying to work. Unfortunately, I find at least 50% of people have bad eating manners – slurping, chomping, speaking with their mouth full. One colleague was showing me how to do a new task at my computer whilst slurping on cereal, right next to me…. I found it disrespectful, more disrespectful than farting. I can totally relate to the person who said it enrages them to the point of fight or flight… whenever I have to tolerate certain people’s revolting eating habits I desperately want to poke them in the eye with a sharp stick, or run away – (for those of you who don’t understand what it feels like… well it is like a dripping tap in the still of the night that you cannot turn off – tortuous. One colleague I shared an office with had impeccable eating manners – I never heard him eating even though he ate his sandwiches at his desk every day for two year …. and I complimented him on this. By the way, snacking is even worse because that means at any time of the day we have to put up with those noisy, slurpy, salivating eaters…. at least if it is just lunchtime we only have an hour or so of hearing feeding time at the zoo.

  23. Judianne*

    I manage a medical office, and I have recently decided to put the breaks on some of the eating that goes on at the front desk. When I first started working for the practice, there was an all out ban on eating at workstations, but, as an aspiring figure competitor who had to eat small frequent HEALTHY meals, I felt the ban was unreasonable. When I began managing the office, I lifted the ban. Since then, I have come to realize that I opened Pandora’s Box. The employees have taken my inch and made a country mile of it. They began eating the nastiest junk food imaginable in front of the patients while they were checking them in and out of the office, and instead of reasonable intermittent snacking they began to chow down constantly! This nasty behavior was being conducted in front of patients who had just learned that they had developed serious health conditions due to their poor eating habits and had just been counseled to curb them with help from referrals to a dietician. I feel that it’s inappropriate for us to fail to practice what we preach, so junk food is no longer allowed on the premises during working hours. As much as some people would love to argue this point, the consumption of chips, soda, pastries, and large candy bars in front of patients, clients, and customers is not an inalienable right. particularly in light of the current healthcare and obesity crises. I will continue to allow consumption of water, tea, coffee, and small servings of raw vegetables, fruit, nuts, and whole grains at employees desks, but the aforementioned “treats” are off limits while employees are working.

    I also had issues with certain employees eating their lunches at their desks. A small minority of those who were doing this were failing to clock out during the time they were eating lunch. They were protesting that they were technically still at work, because they were seated at their desks, regardless of the fact that they were doing no manner of work during the times that they were eating their lunches. I hate having to babysit these people. I have better things to do with my time than to monitor the immature, integrity free behavior of a chosen few, and I’m sure there are other managers with the same complaint. Also, people need to take time out during the day to rest and focus entirely on taking care of themselves, so lunch is now downtime spent either off the premises or in the break room.

  24. Learn How To Eat Silently*

    I googled the question “Can I ban my employees from eating in the workplace” and found this.
    Do you know why I googled that?
    Because people are disgusting pigs, and I cannot stand for another minute to my employees crunching, slurping, gasping, sucking, and smacking their food like a herd of cattle ALL DAY. This is not just during lunch time (although they do all, unfortunately, feel some strange need to eat at their desks even though we have a beautiful, open cafeteria not 50 yards down the hall. I suspect they’re all addicted to surfing the internet at any chance they get.) Anyway, it’s ALL DAY LONG. One person comes in and eats their breakfast at their desk at 8. Another guy follows at 8:30. Then the next has a snack at 9. Etc. Etc. When they’re not chomping on snacks, they’re slurping and crunching on candies like life savers and mints. Every time I hear it, my blood pressure skyrockets and my fists clench. I think someone above called it misophonia. Well, damn, do I ever have a raging case of that. What ever happened to just eating breakfast at home, lunch in the break room, and dinner at home? Why does everyone eat 24/7 every day?? Am I the only person left who only eats three meals a day at the normal times??

    So here’s the choice: either learn to eat like a civilized human being (close your mouth, don’t slurp, etc) and I can deal with it. Do your best imitation of a farm animal, and I’m ruining it for everyone.

  25. You're at work, not in a cafe*

    Like “Learn to Eat Silently” above I came here via Google asking the same question.

    I have several problems with people eating at their desks:
    1. the smell – there is nothing more off putting than the smell of old food and the worst cluprit of all is… stale, wet ground coffee beans
    2. the grotesque state of the desk / keyboard / mice etc after someone has eaten, this is especially bad if you have a hot-desk office. Crumbs, greasy fingerprints (especially those who insist on touching the monitor screens, another of my pet hates). It goes without saying that egg mayonnaise between keys and vanilla latte splattered on the mouse is bad.
    3. the way it confuses colleagues – if you’re at your desk, you are working or poised to work, if you’re not working, do not be at your desk. Getting evil looks from people because they’re playing solitaire while chomping on a sub is not the fault of the person asking a question of the worker, it’s the worker’s fault.
    4. there are people who cannot eat properly and I expect basic table manners of my employees, not employees hunched over a desk, talking with their mouth open and the like. As much as I would like to report their parents to social services for being so useless as to allow them to reach puberty without basic table manners it is far less confrontational to just ban them all from eating at their desks so I don’t spend all afternoon with high blood pressure.
    5. the big one – I know of many, many employees who like to make a big deal about “working through lunch” as if their managers are stupid enough to think they’re such hard workers when in reality most managers I know see people doing that as a sign that they need attention and are unable to balance their workload with their life and are so inefficient they have to eat while working. It looks like they’re trying to look busy, like the person in the office who everyone thinks is always busy but doesn’t actually do anything. I’ve read “how to get on at work” books that have actually said “always eat lunch at your desk – everyone will think you’re very busy”. How stupid do they think we are?!
    6. it looks bad to visitors – there’s no denying that.

    Pregnancy is no excuse for pigging away. Every health expert in the world says that pregnant people should be physically active and that the old “eating for two” stuff is just an excuse. If you’re pregnant, go swimming and eat more fruit and veg, stop eating cake and sugar-laden junk.

  26. Barking 66*

    I’m with the manager on this – up to a point. Inflicting the office environment with the aroma of curry, fish n’chips, and over-ripe mackerel wafts is just selfish and lazy.

    Kitchens are for eating in. Desks are for working at.

    I also embrace the practice of getting away from your work station and (shock) talking to people.

    My caveat is purely over snacks such as biscuits. Accompanied with a cup of tea they, by contrast, have a place in the cultural identify of our Scepter’d Isle. They also don’t smell.

  27. MC*

    What do you do about employees who take their full hour for a lunch break, then return to the workplace WITH their lunch and eat it at their desk?

    1. Jamie*

      Are they working while they are eating? If so I don’t see anything wrong with that.

      A lot of people use their lunch break to run errands, take a walk, or just get out and then eat while working.

      1. Anonymous*

        You’re being paid to work, not to work and eat lunch. If you can manage to work and eat, you can manage to eat while walking or running errands. Or cut your walk short by 10 minutes and spend 10 minutes eating. Then come back and FOCUS on your work.

        1. Anoymous too*

          THIS is my exact problem. I have someone who reports to me who often takes a full hour of lunch THEN eats at her desk. I know for me, if I’m trying to eat a meal (not just a small snack) at my desk that it does delay/creates lack of focus on my work – I’m sure the same thing is true of them. So, this person is actually taking more of a lunch than the allotted time, in my opinion. Agree? Disagree? Rationale?

          1. Anonymous*

            IMO yes. She is taking an hour + for lunch. If it’s only done now and then it’s not too bad, but if it’s a consistent practice I’d put a stop to it. Perhaps if her work allows for it you can offer her the option of taking 1.5 hours for lunch (60 min for errands and 30 min for lunch).

  28. Judianne*

    I fully agree with Annonymous. It’s called a lunch break, not an errand break. You should be using the time to eat lunch. If you brown bag your lunch … sans malodorous options … you will have time to take a short brisk walk afterwards. Time the errands so that they can be done on your days off.

    I also more than agree with the comment that pregnant women should not use their pregnancies as excuses to “pig out.” An average sized healthy woman should only be consuming around 300 extra calories per day during her pregancy. That’s only as much as one extra small meal per day. An additional short 15 minute break should be enough to accomodate its consumption, which should take place away from her desk in effort to allow her a few extra minutes to decompress from the stress of the day. The calories should also be coming from nutritious foods, not greasy, transfat and sugar laden junk. I once had a pregnant employee who was constantly eating junk while she was at work. She would turn down healthy options in favor of junk whenever lunches were catered, saying: “… but the baby doesn’t like salads, chicken, or fish!” (Ridiculous! … I know!) Because we are both healthcare workers, I was able to counsel her regarding better options and give her some written information on nutrition during pregnancy. At her next appointment with her GYN, she joked with him about my concerns over her nasty eating habits. He backed me up by telling her that I was absolutely correct, and she was fortunate to have a manager who cared enough to help her. He then started monitoring her eating habits more carefully. I’m not sure what your rights as a non medical office manager would be regarding counseling the employee on the nutritional content of her meals, but scheduling and limiting the time she needs to consume her small number of extra calories away from her desk should help matters.

  29. Judianne*

    Read the part of my message in which I said we worked in a medical office. 180,000 people a year in the U.S. alone, die from complications that are directly linked only to sugary drinks. That’s not even counting the remainder of junk food options available. You can say all you want about other people’s nutrition being none of my business, but medicine is our business, and we’re not here just to hand out pills. I’m also a former personal trainer who taught pre and post natal fitness. The woman in question asked for my advice, when I told her that it was our policy that she not consume junk food in front of the patients and the rest of the staff. That’s why I counseled her and gave her the information that I did. The woman was also morbidly obese, over age 35, and her pregnancy was deemed to be high risk. That’s why her doctor appreciated my input. I also mentioned that I didn’t know if it was appropriate for someone in any other business to offer that kind of counseling. You must have missed that part, too. I could have just told her to leave the office, entirely, when she wanted to eat, but, being that she needed both her work hours and the extra calories, I offered her a different option. Under the circumstances, I don’t feel that I was behaving inappropriately. By the way, I feel that the photo of you posted of yourself on this particual forum says it all: … “I’m going to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, and anyone who has an issue with it can go fly a kite.”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Sorry, but it’s not appropriate for you to meddle in your employees’ health choices any more than it would be appropriate for an OBGYN to meddle in her employees’ choice of birth control. It’s none of your business unless they ask you for your input.

      1. Gareth*

        I could not disagree with you more. It is entirely appropriate for a manager to do what they can to ensure that their employees are in the best possible health.

        At the most basic level it helps alleviate sick leave, nobody would disagree that healthy workers tend to be more productive workers and at the far end of the argument most would say managers have a social responsibility to their staff – you may not want to ‘meddle’ but you definitely want to influence. This is why many employees provide health and gym packages, why some have workplace doctors and medical practitioners. I know of many firms that provide free fruit to employees, that provide helplines that can assist with everything from nutrition to domestic abuse.

        Firms do this because it is good to do so, not because they’re meddling control freaks.

          1. Gareth*

            If your employee decides to play Russian Roulette on her break you have no “right” to interfere in her choices, but you should still do so as a dead employee is not preferable to a live employee, yet poor nutrition is the biggest killer in the western world and we’re supposed to turn a blind eye because we all have a right to eat burgers and chips?

            In the example the contributor has given, the employee was extremely ignorant and poorly educated about nutrition and making decisions that would be harmful to her, her baby and her workplace. How is this pregnant lady ever to know if nobody tells her?

            We may have freedom in the west, but freedom without personal responsibility and freedom without education is not freedom.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              You have a view of the employer/employee relationship that isn’t shared by most in the U.S.

              Most people don’t want their employers “educating” them on diet, fitness, contraceptive choices, budgeting, marriage, religion, child-rearing, or any other personal issue. If you do, that’s your prerogative, but it’s not aligned with how most employees see the relationship.

  30. Judianne*

    LOL! Read what I wrote about her asking for my input, please! You’re killing me! Since an OBGYN must perscribe a contraceptive, and in the case of IUD’s must insert it, how is it that a patient’s contraceptive is none of his/her business? That makes no sense at all! If the patient asks to be prescribed a contraceptive that is potentially harmful to her particular health, the doctor has every right to refuse the patient’s request. After all, if she is injured or killed, as a result of the use of said prescription, it’s the doctor’s career that is on the line. If the doctor disagrees with a patient’s contraceptive choice for personal reasons, he/she will normally refer the patient to another physician. No patient has the right to attempt to force a physician’s hand when it comes to prescibing medications or medical devices. I think you’d better drop the medical discussion, honey. You’re way out of your league.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I referred to employees, not patients.

      By the way, if you want to continue posting here, you’re going to need to be civil. Cut out the nastiness, please. Thank you.

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