how do I tell our HR director she’s breaking the law?

A reader writes:

Our HR director sent a message to everyone today saying that due to many people failing to take their required lunch breaks every day, they are instituting a policy by which your time will be deducted automatically if you do not take a lunch. This is illegal in our state, but I am struggling finding a way to relay this to the HR manager without it sounding like I’m telling her how to do her job – I mean, this should be pretty elementary for an HR manager, right? Can you please help me with this?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Our performance evaluations assess our workplace friendships
  • Telling a recruiter about a rude interviewer
  • Is it rude to start an email without “dear”?
  • >Expressing a location preference before being offered a job

{ 241 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie*

    I’ve had to have that same HR conversation at 2 different companies. One where I also had to tell them it was illegal to threaten to dock their pay if they didn’t clock in per procedure.

    What is wrong with people?

    1. JoJo*

      They want people to take their required break. What is the alternative? To start firing these people for failing to do what is required?

        1. Cheesy*

          My last job threatened to do that. People weren’t taking their breaks, ever. I know that I personally only took maybe 1 or 2 a month and even then only when I needed to kill some time.

          We worked almost pure commission, but tracked our hours as we still got overtime. The only hourly rates we got were for : extended drive time (over 2 hours), meetings, and training. We were service technicians going to customer homes, so when we took a break, it just made us get home that much later as we still had to do all our work.

          Towards the end of my tenure in the field, they started cracking down on taking lunch breaks. Being told that you had to be parked for 30 minutes every day felt like a punishment, especially when you had a 30 minute drive to get to your job after you punch back in. On top of that our office was rural and we often had long drive times between jobs anyways – I drove about 1.5 hours to my first job most days and could be bounced around between all the surrounding area and still have to drive home at the end of the day.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          And why their employees feel the need to work through lunch – do they not have enough staff to complete the work? Are managers giving the impression that taking lunch is frowned upon?

          It seems like a root cause analysis would be a much better first step than violating state labor law.

          1. Zip Silver*

            I don’t eat lunch at all, for fitness and weight management reasons, but also because you don’t get that afternoon crash if you skip lunch. Taking a lunch break would be annoying, because they’re never long enough to be an actual siesta.

            1. Glitsy Gus*

              Even if you don’t want to eat, if you are hourly you need to take a break by law. If you choose to walk around the block, or read a book, or whatever that’s your prerogative. It’s important to make sure employees get a chance to step away and eat or do whatever else at some point, especially since most folks really can’t go all day without eating. Not only is it the law, it’s unhealthy to go 8 hours without a real break for food or whatever else.

              1. Zip Silver*

                *depending on your state
                There aren’t a ton of states that have mandatory break laws for adults. Texas and Florida are the two largest

                1. Jadelyn*

                  …neither Texas nor Florida have mandatory break laws for adults. Texas has no break laws at all and defaults to federal law (which doesn’t ensure breaks for anyone); Florida’s law applies only to minors.

                  The actual two largest states (by population, anyway) that have mandatory break laws for adults are California and Illinois; or it’s California and Nevada, if you’re measuring largest by physical size.

            2. Emily K*

              I don’t eat a proper lunch either, but I still take my 60 minutes every day. I use it to catch up on personal email, do some online shopping, call the utility company, pay my bills, etc. – just whatever is on my personal to-do list, rounded out with browsing social media/blogs like this one to fill the hour if I have time leftover.

              1. Door Guy*

                I use the time to get away from my desk and check on things that I shouldn’t/can’t do on company time (like read AskAManager)

            3. NotAnotherManager!*

              I never take lunch either, but I’m exempt/management and I’m also not violating company policy or state labor laws. The point of a root cause analysis it not to find out why one person doesn’t take lunch, it’s to figure out why it is a recurrent problem for this company despite mandates to the contrary. If it’s one person that flagrantly ignores direction, that’s one thing; if you’re constantly having to remind a large swatch of people and threaten not to pay them, you’ve got to dig in and see what’s going on.

        1. EPLawyer*

          well that would be the common sense solution. Much easier to threaten people with losing people. Which says a lot about the company if that is HRs approach.

      1. Snark*

        The alternative is letting managers manage, not trying to get the entire company dancing to your tune via memo.

      2. CatCat*

        What is the alternative? To start firing these people for failing to do what is required?

        I mean… yeah. People are usually fired for failing to do what is required at work.

      3. Antilles*

        The correct alternative is to figure out WHY people aren’t taking their breaks.
        Very few people are so enthusiastic and in love with their job that they go “lunch break? lunch break? no way! this job is better than food could ever be!!!!!”
        If people aren’t taking their breaks, odds are it’s because of something like “employees feel too overworked to spare 30 minutes away for lunch”, “management judges people who take breaks”, or something of the sort. So the solution shouldn’t be threats or punishment or docking pay, it should be fixing the root cause.

        1. rayray*

          I agree. I think this is something the company definitely needs to look at. Maybe the company can work on either having work distributed so that people aren’t so overworked that they skip eating, or try to shift their culture to encourage breaks.

        2. Jamie*

          Absolutely that should be ruled out to make sure they aren’t being pushed to work through break.

          But some do it for the money. If you always work through lunch that’s 2.5 hours of OT per week and it’s absolutely a thing for people to do that.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            That wouldn’t fly at the places I’ve worked. It would be considered unauthorized overtime and I would have gotten in massive trouble for that. My state doesn’t have break laws, but I’ve never worked anyplace where I HAD to work through lunch. Nobody likes to pay hourly workers overtime if they can avoid it, in my experience.

        3. Quill*

          Honestly my immediate read is “these people are hourly and have to make that exact 8.0 hours but would also like to be able to actually go home in their evenings or make a reasonable commute time.”

          As a contractor I’ve done that often enough because when you travel an hour and a half to and from work every day you get increasingly tetchy about being able to get home in time to do *anything* besides shower, eat and sleep.

          1. College Career Counselor*

            On a related note, I have seen hourly people work through lunch and any other breaks because they want to leave at 3:30, but not to beat the traffic (there is no traffic/rush hour around here). This of course is not allowed by institutional policy, but no one is willing to call it out and deal with the issue.

            1. ThatGirl*

              I worked through lunch at my last job so I could work 7:30 to 3:30 but a) I was certainly allowed to take short breaks and I did work extra at home/at night when needed and b) traffic was a major consideration

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Same here. I asked to work 8:30-4:30 at Exjob to avoid traffic and my boss approved it. I was happy to stay if needed, but it almost never happened.

          2. Penny*

            I have done the same, not to beat commutes, but because of insufficient PTO/sick leave. It can make it possible to not have to “waste” sick time for a doctor appt., and to mitigate the amount of time I need to use if I have to take an entire day (or more) off because I’m sick or my kid is sick.

            Skipping lunch can be kind of sad, but having to skip family vacations because I used it all up on medical appointments or my kid’s ear infections is downright demoralizing.

            1. Quill*

              Yeah, trying to make it to any doctor’s appointment means some creative scheduling even when things are flexible. Especially when you don’t get any PTO at all, because contractor.

          3. Blue Horizon*

            Yeah, I don’t think you have to look all that far to see why people might be tempted to work through lunch. “Longer work day for no extra pay” is usually more than enough reason for me.

            If it’s a paid break then I agree you would want to investigate more.

          4. TardyTardis*

            I also used to have a supervisor who would drop work by my desk just before noon and have a short deadline on it, but not let me put down that I had worked that hour. Whee.

        4. SheLooksFamiliar*

          I’ve heard too many managers say their lean-and-mean teams work a 40-hour week max, but their team members shed an unattractive light on things: ‘We can only submit time cards for 40 hours, but my boss tells me all the work has to get done SOMEHOW and gosh, paying OT isn’t in the budget. So we work off the clock and through breaks.’ It’s not only llegal, it’s a crappy way to treat your associates.

          1. Junior Assistant Peon*

            This happened at a former employer of mine after an acquisition. The new parent company reclassified everyone up to a pretty high level as hourly rather than salaried, which made a lot of people feel disrespected – degreed professionals punching a clock like factory workers. Overtime was only approved in extreme circumstances, and people were strongly encouraged to report 8-hour days but as late as necessary to get their work done. They weren’t specifically asked to work unpaid overtime, but they were punished if they couldn’t finish all of their work in a 40-hour week, so it quickly became a cultural expectation for everyone to do it.

            1. JimmyJab*

              Lots of degreed professionals “punch a clock” FYI. I know many lawyers who work for the federal government and have strict clocking in/out procedures they must follow.

              1. A*

                To tag onto this – there are also many “factory workers” that are salaried. In this day and age I’d recommend staying away from blue collar/white collar salary vs hourly based assumptions. Both because of sensitivities, and because it’s no longer a consistent benchmark.

                1. Junior Assistant Peon*

                  I realize that laywers and consultants get paid by the hour and probably make more than any of us did, and there are plenty of people with engineering degrees working in modern factories. In my industry, it’s unusual for a degreed professional to be paid hourly, and the change was perceived as a gesture of disrespect. Even if it wasn’t intended that way, the expectation of unpaid overtime was pretty obnoxious.

            2. Gazebo Slayer*

              Yep, I’ve had a job where I was explicitly told by my team lead (in email, no less) to clock out and keep working until I finished my quota.

        5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Nah, tons of people hate stopping mid-task to take a mandated break.

          This is why whistles and everyone on shift going on break is a great way to ensure it happens. The plant stops, you stop and go take your rest break with everyone else. Yet I still see people lagging behind all the time and we have to do the whole “John, seriously it’s break time, put it down and get some fresh air.”

          But it’s all about figuring out the why and trying desperately to get them on board for it. Worse case, you do fire them. Seriously. You fire them for refusing to follow the frigging law.

          1. Junior Assistant Peon*

            Some plants have wiggle room on this, where John can start and end his break five minutes later than everyone else if he’s in the middle of something. It only works if no one abuses it.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              Yeah, if they’re just finishing a piece, I will ignore it for the most part, since it’s one of those “I need to get this last piece cleaned up and then get going.” so 5 minutes here or there, whatever. But yeah, when you see John reaching for a new piece to start working on or just setting up a machine, nope, you need to stop, you did that after the break was called.

              My dad used to set his wrist watch. I know this because when he’d have the day off, I’d hear it go off at random hours and be all “Dad WTF?” “Oh it’s break time! Haaaaaaaa.” [He was union too so if they didn’t take their breaks, they weren’t complying with their CBA either, triple yikes! So yeah, they were put on notice that breaks weren’t an option, they were required.]

          2. Tim*

            Yeah, I wish we could just have whistles at my job. There is plenty of time for lunch breaks and yet people often just…don’t take them, unless you follow them around telling them to (which I have had to do periodically, and also order people to stop working when they’re supposed to stop, because everyone just “doesn’t feel like it” or goes “oops, I totally forgot!” and we end up paying too much overtime for stupid reasons).

            1. PhyllisB*

              I used to live in a town with a garment factory when I was young, and the whole town lived by the whistles. Start, lunch, end. I don’t think they had a whistle for short breaks, but maybe they did and I don’t remember.

        6. doreen*

          Few people are so in love with their jobs that they simply prefer to work an extra half-hour rather than taking a lunch break. But I’ve known plenty of people in my working life who’d rather work through lunch and get comp time ( we work a 37.5 hour week and people get comp time for the first 2.5 hours OT) or who want to take their “break” at the beginning or end of the workday ( which doesn’t actually comply with the law – the law says if a shift is six hours or longer and extends over the time period from 11am-2pm, the lunch break must be between 11am and 2 pm. Arriving at 8 instead of 8:30 or leaving at 4 instead of 4:30 doesn’t comply). People do get counseled and disciplined for non-compliance and in theory, someone could be fired for it.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Yeah, it’s not necessarily ever they love their job, it’s usually that they want to have more control over their hours in general! Especially on shift work, where there’s not much flexibility.

            Some of my crew will actually purposely clock in early/clock out late for 4 days a week and get 15-20 minutes extra that they’ll need to shave off, since leaving early Friday’s is pretty doable. They still take their breaks though because I don’t play with breaks.

        7. Public Sector Manager*

          I have an hourly employee who tries to skip lunch. The employee generally gets to work 20-30 minutes late, which I could care less about because the employee doesn’t have a customer facing job. But rather than leave 20-30 minutes later at the end of the day, or clock out after 7.5 hours, they work through lunch so they can go home at their regular time and get paid for a full 8 hours. I’ve offered a later start time, which just gets met with a “no thanks!”

          I keep telling the employee, “I could care less if you start late, but you need to take your half hour lunch. It’s the law, it’s required, it’s good for you, and you can’t consent to a labor law violation.”

          We’re basically moving into a PIP because the employee has left us no option. We’re not going to violate our state’s labor laws to accommodate an employee.

      4. Jamie*

        Yes. Make sure there isn’t mixed messages about working through breaks from their managers and then once communication is clear if they continue you follow your disciplinary process for not following company policy.

      5. Liane*

        “To start firing these people for failing to do what is required?”
        Newsflash! As Alison has written many times firing isn’t the ONLY tool managers have!

        There’s the “What’s up with this?” talk.
        The Very Serious Talk.
        Progressive discipline–whatever that is per your company policies.

        All of which can be applied to individual offenders. Including managers, if it turns out some/all of them aren’t enforcing lunch breaks. Even HR people who make policies that open their employer to Very Serious Legal Issues.

      6. Jadelyn*

        Alternatives? Sure, here you go:
        1. Go to a scheduled system of lunch breaks – I don’t normally advocate this, adults get to decide when they’re hungry unless it’s a coverage-based job, but if you’ve got a serious enough issue to warrant docking people, this is less worse. Wakeen’s lunch is from 11-12, Cersei’s lunch is from 11:30-12:30, etc.
        2. Talk to the people who aren’t taking lunches and find out why. Are they being scheduled in meetings solid from 11am-2pm? Do they have too much to do and are afraid there would be consequences for lower productivity if they don’t work through lunch?
        3. And, yes, start enforcing consequences for people who don’t take their lunches. You absolutely can discipline an employee for not taking required breaks.

      7. Quickbeam*

        This problem is super common in nursing, They don’t want to pay you for your meal breaks but they don’t want you to leave the unit either. I started adding a 1/2 hour OT to my time card at my last hospital when I was the only RN on a night unit. It got to the point that I quit over it. I was not allowed to leave the unit. It was an actual reality for me since I lived up the street. I wanted to take a meal break at home but was not allowed to leave. They could not find any one to cover for me. They just wanted me to donate my meal and break time to the hospital.

          1. TardyTardis*

            Especially elementary teachers whose lunch often involves hoovering down food while making sure 30 small children don’t choke on theirs.

      8. Anonymoosetracks*

        I mean obviously companies don’t want to use that as a starting point, but firing people for taking unauthorized overtime – which is what this is – is definitely a thing, if it becomes a repeated issue. The first step is to find out WHY people feel the need to take unauthorized overtime and fix the underlying problem, but if you have done that and an employee continues to do it, firing is not an unreasonable response.

      9. Ha2*

        You are absolutely able to demote people or lower their future pay rate. You just can’t retroactively not pay them for work already done.

      10. fhqwhgads*

        It’s sort of like people working unauthorized overtime. They worked it, you still have to pay them. You can’t choose not to just because they weren’t approved first. But you can fire someone for doing it after you tell them not to.

    2. LabTechNoMore*

      If I had a nickel for every time over the course of my career that I had explain to HR and payroll that, Yes, you do have to pay me, on time, for all the time I worked, at the rate we agreed upon, and that it’s the goddamn law, I still wouldn’t have recovered the amount from constant wage theft!

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s usually because they’re putting people in place that either are uneducated in the employment laws or who have no spine when it comes to telling the big-wigs that their “great!” aka hairbrained ideas are illegal.

      It’s usually some big boss who says “Oh can we just automatically deduct for lunches, since these people won’t bother taking them?” and some spineless person saying “Oh sure, okay yeah whatever you say,boss!”

      Whereas they want someone who actually is protecting them from their illegal ideas, argh.

      I’ve had to do the same but always work for people [because I’ll quit otherwise anyways] who go “Oh shoot, it’s illegal?” “Yeah it is. It’s to protect people who are mistreating and doing awful things to employees you know?” “Right, of course, shoot.” “Make them take lunch or fire them.” “But I don’t wanna.” “Then you wanna keep paying them for their lunch breaks, good choice!”

    4. Rebecca*

      My company does this. There is no overtime, unless it is approved ahead of time, and it rarely if ever happens. And we have a lean staff, no wiggle room, and the staff is pressured to get the work done. There are people I work with who clock out for the mandated 30 minute lunch break and just keep working, then clock back in. And if you do get stuck working, you are supposed to take your break, even if it’s hours past due. Or leave 1/2 hour early, or if it’s absolutely necessary to stay past quitting time, come in late the next day or leave early the next day to even out to a 40 hour week. If you’re working and forget to punch out and back in, and overtime wasn’t approved, they add the lunch break time to the time system. And don’t get me started on the whole 7 minute punch thing … like if you punch in too early, like 8 minutes prior to shift, you’re told about it, because it rounds back to quarter of – and then the manager has to make it read top of the hour instead – but don’t you dare punch out 1 minute prior to end of shift. Or, if you have to stay a few minutes to change an email, of course that time is hacked off too – like if you stay 5 minutes, you don’t get credit for it.

      I find the whole thing maddening.

      1. Mr. Shark*

        That’s why I was so happy when I got my promotion to become exempt. I know that I wouldn’t get the OT (though I did get a sizeable raise), but not having to deal with those headaches, it was worth it.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      And then there are the places that won’t LET you work through lunch even in an emergency. Even when your state requires you be given the OPTION for lunch, does not require you to take it. (I can understand this for a multi-state corporation, but our state university had to admit the difference & change its rules when a friend worked there.)

    6. Tinybutfierce*

      I once worked for a retailer that instituted a policy where they’d dock an employee $10 every time they failed to clock in/out, and missing three punches within six months was cause for termination. I always wondered about the legality of that, but since I was a store manager and corporate was two hours away (and generally did much worse crap than that), I always just manually edited my employee’s timecards to add in whatever punch was missed on the rare occasion that it happened. The software they used was such old crap, they wouldn’t have been able to tell I’d been doing it, anyway (not that their “IT” guy was capable enough to discover it, but that’s a whole other thing), but I still wouldn’t regret it even if it had been discovered. I wasn’t going to have my hard-working, severely underpaid employees further penalized because our useless HR woman had to do a little additional work.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        YUCK it was a major enough retailer that they had an out of state corporate HQ, that’s even more egregious.

        That’s illegal AF. You cannot dock pay. Just about ever. Just keep that in mind. You have to pay for hours worked. This kind of scam that employers run to “punish” employees is exactly why that law exists.

        I’m glad at least you were solid and could adjust their punches.

        1. Tinybutfierce*

          Unfortunately, they were very small “corporate” that was really a family-owned business, which also operated under the whole “we’re a family at work!” nonsense that only benefited the family that ran it (cue intense eye-roll here). Their HR woman had zero formal HR training or education at all, and I later found out she’d had a relationship and lived with another department manager, until they split very un-amicably; of course, nothing was ever done about them violating the non-fraternization/living-with-other-employees rules (cue even more intense eye-roll).

          But yeah, I’d had enough terrible managers and employers by the time I had that job that I was AAAAAALL about protecting my staff as much as I could when I could. None of us got paid enough for the garbage that company did, I figured I could try to make it as easier and fair for them as I could.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            I’m always frustrated when this kind of shi*t grows from just one operation to multiple locations but the good thing is that they will grow so big for those britches, they’re more likely to have someone blow all the right whistles. Sigh. Again just yuck.

  2. Merry*

    Only kind of related and I understand if too off-topic, but one of the hotels I am expected to stay at for work lists plainly on their website that they do not accept animals and do NOT accept service animals. This is a hotel in one of the state’s main cities. Any idea how I can professionally reach out to either the conference group or the hotel to clarify and address? I myself do not require a service animal, but think this is pretty awful.

    1. Buttons*

      Emotional Support animals can be banned from hotels, but if this in the US ADA requires hotels to allow for service dogs and they are not allowed to charge a pet fee for them.

    2. Dahlia*

      Find the relevant parts of the ADA and explicitly copy and paste it, while including a link, and flat-out say that it’s illegal to do this. You don’t have a right to refuse service animals as a business.

    3. Yorick*

      If you don’t require a service animal, you shouldn’t do anything about this, unless you are very senior or part of the conference planning and can reasonably suggest the conference work with a different hotel chain in the future.

        1. merp*

          Yeah, I disagree with that too, why not? Better to make a fuss about this obviously illegal thing as soon as possible so fewer people are affected by it.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Yes. Yes it is.
          But from the hospitality industry’s point of view, I do wish there were a solid testing&licensing procedure for trained service* dogs. And it should include legal consequences for people who claim licensing for dogs that are ill-behaved pets brought where they don’t belong.

          *Yes I would include support dogs — because this would be the training that the system abusers are lacking. No aggressive biters would pass, and they wouldn’t get the super-sekrit-sertificate.

          1. doreen*

            One of the things I have never understood is why those who use service animals don’t insist on some sort of licensing/certification/proof. Because in my opinion, part of the issue is that a business can only ask what task the animal performs – and if I know enough to claim that my pet dog detects when I’m about to have a seizure, the business must take my word for it. And when my pet ( who isn’t actually a service animal) misbehaves, people are going to view that as a service animal misbehaving.

            1. Dahlia*

              Because gatekeeping is an awful thing that would mean that it’s even harder for people to access service dogs.

              1. doreen*

                Serious questions – 1) Would gatekeeping regarding service animals necessarily be more of an imposition than gatekeeping regarding handicapped parking placards etc? 2) Would gatekeeping be more awful than what those with legit service animals endure because of the fakes? I suspect ( although I could absolutely be wrong ) that people with legit service animals encounter a lot of problems because so many people try to pass off their pets as service animals.

                1. Lepidoptera*

                  1) It would be the same imposition
                  2) yes it would because of the hurdles it would put in place for disabled people trying to make sure that their animals had the right certification everywhere they went. (e.g. in some Canadian provinces there are certifications that handlers must purchase which state the validity of their service animal, these certifications are through x organization, but a different province needs them from y organization, that’s a lot of paperwork and money to make sure that you can just access what everyone else can access)

                2. KoiFeeder*

                  I mean, it is only barely legal for me to drive (right hip joint used to fall out with the motion required to press the brake pedal and I’d need to put it back in place) and I still do not qualify for one of those fancy parking placards, so make of that what you will.

              2. Llellayena*

                Requiring a license for a service dog is no harder than requiring a state/government issued ID for a person (used for things like buying alcohol, driving, traveling by plane…). If the license follows the animal, is applied for, provided and paid for by the training company (and preferably government subsidized, though a state ID isn’t very expensive anyway), how does that make it “harder” for people to get a service dog? I would think it would help with the acceptance of service dogs in public places where “emotional support animals” are not permitted. Laws surrounding which animals are allowed where would be easier to implement and enforce.

                1. Lepidoptera*

                  But states/government IDs are generally accepted across the country as meaning the same thing (a drivers’ license for a car is the same license regardless of state).
                  This has not been the case with service animal certifications as they exist now in their implementation in other countries.
                  It would also require setting up standards for what a service animal must be able to do and the most current example I’m aware of (a proposed Act in Canada) failed to account for the fact that people with disabilities don’t all have the same needs from their service animals. A service animal should be trained for the job its handler needs it to do, this would require way more differentiation than that seen in, for example, even vehicle classifications for drivers’ licenses (e.g. class f can drive a commercial truck but class g is needed to drive a commuter vehicle).

            2. Lepidoptera*

              There are provisions which allow a business to remove a misbehaving legitimate service animal. This does not include behaviours which for which the animal was trained (e.g. animals can be trained to ‘redirect’ which from the other side can look like the animal is acting aggressively towards their handler but they are actually trying to distract the person.

              If we relied on certification that actually bars a lot of people from accessing service animals.
              1) it creates an even more bottle-necked system than there is now for organization/association trained animals
              2) it means that some sort of overarching entity must make rules and standards for what every animal must be trained in, even if that’s not required for every disability or every person with the same disability (e.g. think of the range of symptoms in cerebral palsy, now imagine requiring a single standard for an animal trained to work with people in that population, that would be untenable).

              1. doreen*

                I mean, it could involve that whole thing with the overarching entity that makes rules and standards regarding what animals must be trained it – but it could also be that a medical provider/training entity fills out a form that that goes to a government entity that issues a card/vest recognized nationwide, just like my driver’s license is recognized nationwide. And I’m not really sure why the latter system would bar people from accessing service animals – wouldn’t just about everyone with a disability requiring a service animal have access to a medical provider or training organization that knows of their disability?

                1. Lepidoptera*

                  There are provisions in the law that allow a person to train their own animal.
                  This is because many organizations which train service animals only train it for specific functions which some people may not require those and in other cases have more needs.

                  I agree that your premise for the doctor form filling and filing with a state agency sounds good but in practice it would probably look more like how it is to get on disability payments or other “jump through a billion hoops for assistance” government programs.

                  As to how this would bar people with disabilities. Let’s assume there isn’t an organization, a person must train their own animal, in doing so they must take it with them to all the places a service animal can go, if a doctor must sign off on it they cannot state what the animal does only what the animal will be trained to do. Does this violate the licensing? Is there a self-training provision?
                  Assuming that there is an organization which trains the animals, there are only so many animals which can be trained at a time. All the animals must pass the same tests but that weeds out a lot of candidates. Now there’s even fewer animals available but the list of handlers has gone up or stayed the same. Then you have to be matched with a potential animal, do you two work well together? Will the animal need extra training for other non-standard tasks? That’s more time without a service animal. Okay so we’ve graduated 10 animals, but there’s still 100 people on the list who qualify. And so on.
                  That supply and demand problem doesn’t really happen with any other licenses, except maybe hunting or fishing. And even then, hunting isn’t a universal right, but accessibility is considered a right for disabled people by the UN.
                  It’s all very complicated.

            3. chronicallyIllin*

              Because any system like that would be horrifically prone to abuse and manipulation from interested parties– say, hotels who don’t want to permit service dogs in.

              It would also create a list of disabled people which disabled people don’t want, on account of lists like that being used for eugenics so many times in history.

              1. Avasarala*

                Have the same concerns been raised about handicap placards for cars? I would think that would already be a list, and no more complete than one for dogs since not all disabled people drive or have service dogs.

          2. Close Bracket*

            “*Yes I would include support dogs”

            By “support dogs,” do you mean “emotional support animals?” ESAs do have documentation. An animal is only an ESA if a mental health professional has essentially prescribed it for a patient. Airlines require this documentation for an ESA to fly in the cabin without a fee. I’m not sure whether you were including airlines in the hospitality industry. From a hotel standpoint, I don’t believe ESAs are treated any differently from pets, so there’s no real system for people to abuse. Sure, they can lie about the ESA being a service animal, and then your proposal would prevent that, but as things stand, some hotels allow pets, and those pets would still be present even if your proposal were enacted.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              A hotel, apartment, or college dorm has to permit an ESA, but the same provisions for misbehaving service animals apply to ESAs as well. If my ESA causes property damage, I’m paying for it and both of us get the boot. Also, like service animals, non-handler people aren’t supposed to touch my ESA.

      1. Vermonter*

        As someone with different access needs (not a service animal, but other ADA required accessibility that businesses often skimp on), I’d be delighted if Merry was my coworker and brought this up – and management acted on it. It sends a message to staff that management actually cares about accessibility and reasonable accommodations.

      2. Allies wanted*

        Why shouldn’t the OP do anything about this? As a disabled person, I would greatly appreciate it if abled people would speak up about clear violations of the law. I have to invest a great deal of time and effort into educating people and advocating for myself, and I would really appreciate allies who help with that.

      3. Buttons*

        Everyone should be advocating for those who are often discriminated against or excluded. It is the only way to change. They can’t do it alone.

      4. Kimmybear*

        I respectfully disagree. Please flag this to the conference planners who may not be aware of the hotel’s policy and to the hotel. Unless they are made aware that this is a concern to their customers, they will continue doing business as is. I’m not suggesting threats of boycotts or refusing to attend but flagging this as an area of concern at least starts the conversation.

          1. Merry*

            It’s a hotel chain with an heiress involved in early reality TV.

            Also thank you everyone for your input. I feel more confident about addressing this now, especially because my line of work is always talking about equity.

            1. Anon Librarian*

              Oh, that would give you a good reason to bring it up! “This policy doesn’t fit with our message.”

              And yikes. Doesn’t that heiress always have a chihuahua in her purse? Maybe I’m thinking of the wrong one.

            2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              As far as I can see, it’s not an across the board rule and it’s from hotel to hotel and chain to chain, since they own like 88234872539 of the chains they’ve snapped up over the years! So I wonder if this is one they bought recently?

              Still it’s utter nonsense and thank you for speaking up about it, despite it not affecting you. More people need to look out for everyone, not just their own interests.

  3. Mike C.*

    If HR is breaking the law then I think they need to be told how to do their job – they clearly don’t understand how.

      1. Quill*

        If not them, whoever decided they didn’t need to make “complying with the law” a priority for their HR department…

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        I doubt it – if they knew exactly what they were doing, they wouldn’t have a papertrail from HR that directly contradicts state law. That’s an easy report to whatever state agency oversees this type of thing. If they knew exactly what they were doing, they’d spread the word more obliquely or just start taking the deductions and then threatening people’s jobs for turning them in. (Spent six months on an employment law matter that had similar but much smarter bad actors.)

      3. Observer*

        Nope. As the others have said, the ones who actually know do NOT put this in writing, because they know that it takes only one person to “snitch”.

        1. LabTechNoMore*

          If this were truly coming from a place of ignorance, we would occasionally see errors in the employee’s favor. As opposed to “mistakes” that only seem to ever result in paycuts. It’s not that they don’t know what they’re doing, it’s just that they either don’t know or care that it’s illegal.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Ding ding. I am done with giving employers that do illegal crap to their employees the benefit of the doubt. Either they know what they’re doing and are deliberately cheating us, or they don’t and they suck at their jobs (and no, ignorance of the law is not a legal defense).

            Some people get weirdly defensive about wage theft or other bad behavior by employers getting called out, and honestly it reminds me of how some people will push back on anyone objecting to racism or sexism because really, couldn’t there be *some* other totally reasonable reason someone is, say, leaving all the POC and women out of the meeting invites?

  4. Zona the Great*

    I wonder if I’m the only one who would simply reply all and say, “That’s illegal!” with a policy attached?

    1. Snark*

      I mean, I might be tempted, in the first few moments of pique, to do so….but I’d also like to not make a mortal enemy of the HR director, so.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I wouldn’t want it traced back to me, but yes, I think I’d make a burner email account and send a copy of the law from that and cc as many people on the list as possible so they also know to double check their pay stubs carefully. So many businesses have the notion that they’ll do something illegal like this until they get caught, banking on the hope that no one will know the law, or be willing to call them out on it.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      I’m rarely a fan of anonymous notes, but I’d mail highlighted printouts of the relevant state law and any labor agency guidelines straight to HR. Possibly post them in the break room.

    4. Jadelyn*

      I mean, you could do that, but I guarantee you they’d find an excuse to fire you within a week or two. The kind of HR that’s pulling this sort of stunt is not the kind that gives half a damn about whistleblower protections.

      Maybe I’m just an asshole, but I’d just forward the email right over to the state DOL and let them deal with it. That’s their job.

    5. blackcat*

      I mean, replying all with “Yikes, couldn’t that put us in legal hot waters? See LINK” would be much softer but still have the same impact.

    6. Anon Librarian*

      I would call the HR person or talk to them in person. Then you can deliver the bad news with a smile and a warm tone of voice. That stuff makes a difference.

      “Hey Jane! I saw your email about the new policy. I completely understand where this is coming from and why it makes sense from a business perspective.”


      “My concern is that it seems to contradict state laws. Is there an exception that applies in this case? I can send you a link if you want to see what I’m referring to. I don’t want us to get in trouble. There could be other solutions for the concerns you brought up.”

  5. bottomless pit*

    I’m missing something in #1. Are the employees working through lunch? Or are they taking lunch but not clocking out for it? Or something else?

    1. noahwynn*

      I assume working through lunch. Was common in my scenario I brought up below at the airline and also previous to that when I worked retail. Why should I waste 30 minutes sitting in a breakroom when I could be paid for it instead?

      1. Quill*

        The only time you get to sit down all day… is in a break room. Retail is hell.

        God I love being in an office.

    2. doreen*

      Taking the break and not clocking out is a possibility.. I remember seeing a decision either by a court or a state dept of labor that involved an employer automatically deducting lunch because people weren’t clocking out. The employer won, because they had a mechanism for those who actually didn’t take a break to report it and be paid for it.

    3. JustaTech*

      I had a manufacturing job where we never took lunch on Friday because getting out of the clean room and back in took so long that a 30 minute lunch added at least an hour to our longest day, so there was a real incentive to *not* take break if you didn’t have to.

      I don’t know if management ever noticed.

  6. Buttons*

    1&2 are both examples of why people hate HR. I am so tired of so-called HR professionals not actually being HR professionals. If you’ve been thrown into an HR role and do not have degrees in HR or have certifications such as SHRM or APTD (or whatever is the norm in your country or industry) then please look into and ask your company to pay for it. HR is no longer just employee relations and payroll.
    No matter what job you have it is you have to keep your knowledge and skills current. What I learned in college 20+ years ago is not all that relevant now, but I have continued to learn, grow, and build my skills to keep up with technology and people.

    1. WellRed*

      Right? Companies are so ridic about requiring 4 year degrees for jobs that don’t need it, why are they so lax about HR certifications?

      1. Buttons*

        Because they don’t really the people and they don’t really understand what a well-qualified HR team can do for the company.
        Wait, can y’all tell I am feeling a little discouraged and bitter today? LOL!

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          And I’ll add on that following labor law is an inconvenience for the people at the top and anyone who brings it up is a killjoy who “doesn’t understand how business works”.

          My favorite was the labor and employment attorney who strictly forbid email on phones for any nonexempt employees and then complained that his assistant didn’t respond to emails outside of business hours. Dude, you are the person who created the policy that said he couldn’t have email outside of work!

          1. Jadelyn*

            A…labor and employment attorney…did this?

            I mean, you’d think I’d stop being surprised by this stuff eventually, and yet here we are.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              Not just *A* labor & employment attorney, *THE* labor & employment attorney who wrote the freakin’ policy. I swear, I don’t look for irony; it just follows me around!

      2. Jadelyn*

        Because they actually benefit from having untrained HR. Competent HR might actually stand in the way of them exploiting their workers however they please.

    2. Kimberlee, No Longer Esq.*

      The competency is more important than the credential, of course (which I’m sure you agree with, Buttons, not trying to target you with this). I have Issues With SHRM as an organization, but I have a depth of knowledge in employment law, and I keep up with changes. That’s the absolute standard for HR, and if you’ve been thrown into HR without that knowledge base, you really really really need to find a way to get it, whether thru SHRM or similar training, or through rigorous self-teaching, mentorship, whatever. And yeah, as you say Buttons, *keeping up* is so much more important! I’d take an HR applicant with no formal education/credential but who subscribes to all the right newsletters over someone with a Masters from 10 years ago who hasn’t been keeping up.

      1. Buttons*

        I am not a super big fan of SHRM either, but I have seen that when people are working on it, they begin to realize how complicated HR truly is. It opens their eyes to their lack of knowledge in whatever area(s).
        When I am interviewing people I ask them about how they keep up, and what they do when they don’t know something. When I started in my industry eLearning wasn’t even a thing, and I when I saw it was coming I started getting certified, went back for another master’s degree, and taught myself every single eLearning software that was out there. I want the same in an employee. I don’t expect people to know everything, but goodness we have the internet now, you can literally find anything in just a few keystrokes! I want someone who has the drive to do that when faced with something they have never done before or don’t know. How hard would it have been the HR in letter 1 to google “State laws lunch breaks pay” ?

      2. Jadelyn*

        “someone with a Masters from 10 years ago who hasn’t been keeping up.”

        I actually went to HRCI’s credential database once and looked up a senior HR manager at my org, because she claimed to have a PHR-CA and yet we were always having to rein her in and remind her that we can’t do [thing] in California. She did have it, but she’d originally gotten it years and years ago, and I’m guessing whatever she was doing to keep up her PDCs and hang on to the certification, she either wasn’t paying attention or wasn’t bothering to do CA-specific stuff. Maybe both. That’s such an irritating phenomenon.

        1. Former Church Lady in HR*

          I had been working in the employee benefits admin area for a long time and had several CEBS courses when I got a job administering FMLA for a federal contractor with 6500 employees. About a year and a half in, the regional benefits administrator quite and I wanted the job – I had twice the experience of the the last person in the role and management seemed to think I was well suited. The first question in the on-line application process was “Do you have a degree in Human Resources or related field.” I said “no” and the system bounced me for not having the required degree. I was in my late 50’s at the time and back in the Stone Ages I went to college, there was no such thing as an HR degree. (The state university I attended didn’t even have a business degree then; you majored in economic with a business concentration.) So I complained to my manager, hinting broadly that this discriminated against older persons who learned on the job, who brought it up with the position’s manager who complained to the HR person running the hiring process. Who promptly called to ask me to try again and this time answer yes to that question since they would now consider my degree in history to be related to HR. I got the job and got a PHR a couple of years later on the company dime. The same stupid question got in the way when my supervisor and I had to apply for jobs in the company during a reorg; the positions were supposed tailored for us and the posting would be up only for a day. This time the same HR person asked for a Master’s in HR or a business field and we both failed the question. It got changed back to a degree in HR and both of us were instructed to answer yes.

          1. Jadelyn*

            I could physically feel my blood pressure going up as I read this. That is so STUPID of them! And it absolutely does discriminate against older applicants, who started their careers before a time when everyone and their baristas have college degrees – my mother has this same issue, she’s got literal decades of accounting experience, but because she had never gotten a degree she kept getting passed over for 20-somethings whose degrees hadn’t even been printed yet, and wound up leaving accounting altogether because of it.

            I – the youngest and until recently most junior employee in a fairly large HR department – am actually the only one of us with a degree *in HR*…because I’m the only one who went to college recently enough that that was an option. (It’s become our running joke, actually – my boss, who has an MBA, will jokingly defer to me on some things “because Jadelyn’s the one with the degree here”.) Heck, even when I went to college the first time, it certainly wasn’t an option, and that was only 15 years ago.

            And quite frankly the knowledge that gets me through the day on any given day comes 99.9% from what I’ve learned on the job from my older, more experienced, less-degreed coworkers, and 0.1% from the classes in my degree program. Give me people with experience over people with degrees any day.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yes to asking for actual education.

      But do not get lulled into false comfort that these are all people without training. It’s a great thing when it’s applied and executed well, it’s often not though.

      Lots of HR horror stories are people with professional certifications behind them.

      1. Buttons*

        Gosh, don’t I know it. I deal with it daily within my company’s HR. I have to partner with HRBPs who all have Master’s in HR and SHRM or whatever other certifications and I spend a lot of time coaching them on what it means to be a business partner and not employee relations.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yeah, it’s the same with a lot of education in the end, it’s not just an HR thing.

          I’ve had the same issues with accounting professionals out there =(

          Many companies will see education and think they can skimp on training. They’ll also just assume you’re the expert and that’s why you were hired, only you need a lot more confidence or resources at your disposal to actually do that! So it’s really that we need to keep pushing for more feedback and making voicing things less daunting.

          If I say “Bro this is illegal tho.” to a boss, they listen and will let me show them where in the law it shows that that’s not acceptable. Whereas other places treat you like you just need to do it and shut up about it. Which is awful and it gets people into that mindset of “Just be a good drone and do your drone job!”

    4. Sharkie*

      I get #1, but unless I am not reading #2 correctly, I don’t understand how that is HRs fault. I have been at companies that HR doesn’t have access to department evals, just evals that are company-wide.

      1. Buttons*

        Sharkie- I have only ever worked for companies where HR sets competencies, cultural goals, and performance management processes.

        1. Sharkie*

          Yes, HR sets goals and all of that but there is nothing they can do if a department head wants to give even more feedback specific to that department’s work.

    5. Not Me*

      It’s just silly to think a degree or certification automatically makes someone good at their job. And it’s incredibly condescending to suggest anyone in HR without those needs to get one. Some people are bad at their jobs and have a masters degree. Some people are excellent at their job and learned on the job. It’s best to evaluate performance based on…performance.

    6. Leela*

      In my experience as a former HR person, a huge part of this is companies just don’t give two sh*ts about HR. They won’t listen to the HR staff at all and won’t invest anything in it, then all the good ones leave, leaving them with bad HR staff and they go “see? HR isn’t important anyway, look how poorly they do.”

    7. Mop.*

      HR should be a licensed profession (not just certifications.) The amount of damage and/or liability a poor HR person can cause is substantial. Too many companies have an “HR Manager” who does not have knowledge beyond basic record-keeping and maybe a little recruiting. HR would also be less likely to ignore or feel pressured into supporting illegal behavior if it would result in losing licensure.

  7. noahwynn*

    I worked for an airline ground handler once who just started deducting 30 minutes for lunch breaks. They didn’t even tell us about it and no one figured it out until someone started looking at past timecards in the computer system.

    The thing was, we were only normally scheduled for 4 hour shifts, and they would only take a lunch break if it was 5 hours or more. When we were held over, it was because of delays and we were working with passengers without a chance to actually take the break. It took many of us filing complaints with the state before it was finally fixed.

  8. Arctic*

    I worked at a hotel in high school and college. When I worked the day shift it was almost impossible to get managers to agree to let you take a lunch. And then HR would be after them because we didn’t clock out for break as required. And the managers would pretend we were just taking lunch and not clocking out i.e. milking the system. Eventually they started doing this. (We all knew it was illegal but had zero power.)
    What HR was thinking was “that will incentivize to actually clock out.” What managers heard was “now we can have them not take lunch AND HR Will stop bothering us.”
    It did resolve eventually. But no one wanted to hear what we had to say.

  9. Quill*

    It sounded to me like they’re hourly and the culture is “eat at desk so you only spend 8 hours there instead of 8.5.”

    That’s the only reason I can think of that someone would get their pay docked for not “taking a lunch.”

    … which is pretty shitty, especially when people are trying to make the best of commuting / might need to get off earlier for childcare, etc.

    1. Arctic*

      In some states workers are required to have a half hour break for every 7.5 or 8 hours worked (varies.) Companies worry that if the government comes in and goes through their payroll it will look like none of their employees take legally mandated breaks.
      Does NOT excuse breaking the law.

      1. Quill*

        Yeah, no excuse. In my experience though, the people getting their time cards scrutinized the most are the most junior, so temps, contractors, etc.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        The meal break law tends to be at 5 hours in many states, instead of 7.5 or 8 hours even.

        The law here is that no sooner than 2 hours after arrival, no later than 5 hours after arrival for required meal break.

        It works out fine because we actually take our breaks and have it all on a schedule. So at 2 hours. 15 minutes. at 4 hours. 30 minute unpaid meal break. 6 hours, 2nd 15 minute break. Some people hate it, I say “Yeah well it’s better than employers who are driving workers too hard, boohoo you have to go sit down for fifteen minutes. Get off my shop floor, Jimmy!”

    2. SunshineOH*

      More likely, the lack of break is pushing them into OT, which the company doesn’t want to pay if it isn’t needed.

    3. Chocoholic*

      We have this culture at my office – people prefer to work say 8-4 and avoid traffic in the afternoon as much as possible. No managers are forcing anyone to stay at their desks and work through and not everyone does it, but a lot of people do. I am of two minds on this because on one hand, people should have a break. But adults should be allowed to manage their own time.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Part of this kind of stricter rules about taking lunches and not letting them do it like your office who can opt out is that it’s a really easy system to game in the end.

        If we let you work through lunch but are pretty relaxed about people coming and going from their desks, since nobody is chained down by any means and there’s no butts-in-seats going on around here. People are still casually going to warm up their lunch, taking a walk around the office, chit chatting and essentially taking a lunch break anyways. But since they’re then getting their food and wandering back into their office or desk, you need to act like it’s all paid time. Which gets dicey and frustrating when they’re then butts out the door at 4pm on the dot.

        So we are strict about not waiving lunches as a practice unless it’s not a regular thing, if we’re hiring, then yeah we probably will run through lunch and you don’t need to stay here even longer because you need to find a way to fit it in! When we have outside visitors, those are all paid lunches and such.

        It’s not all about letting adults be in charge of their time, it’s often just keeping a structure in place to avoid people taking advantage and also just having a cohesive unit. But since that’s your culture, that makes a bit more sense but in the end, it’s not always the most productive way to do things either depending on how the people involved are eating while working.

  10. banzo_bean*

    OP #4 I had a boss who had this same idiosyncrasy. He also detested hearing “have a good one”. If a client were to say “Have a good one” to me I could not repsond “you too” I had to say “have a good day” or “have a good evening.” I felt very condescending replying like that, glad to be rid of his nitpickings.

    1. Jamie*

      Your old boss might be room mates with mine, in their very own nitpicky circle of hell.

      “Yes, Jamie, I know a semi-colon is technically correct, but I find a comma far more aesthetically pleasing. Discontinue your use of semi-colons.”

      My eventual resignation letter did contain a semi-colon. :)

      1. banzo_bean*

        Oh, my old boss wanted me to bring in an interview candidate for the sole purpose of telling her she had used a semi-colon incorrectly in her cover letter. I pretended her phone number had been disconnected.

      2. OhNo*

        Bah, I hate when people do that. Whether it’s phrasing or the Oxford comma or whatever, it’s just so irritating when little things like that get mandated.

        Honestly, given how much I dislike it, I’d have probably ended up with a resignation letter using nothing but semi-colons.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Eh, we mandate certain grammatical usage to ensure documents are consistent across the organization. I don’t think we’re alone in having a style guide. Plus, Oxford commas are non-negotiable in legal. There is caselaw (recent, even) about lack of inclusion of the final comma changing the meaning of documents. (Fortunately, though, these are based on actual rules of English grammar and not someone’s irrational hatred of the beautiful semi-colon.)

      3. MagicUnicorn*

        I had your old boss’s anit-particle as a colleague. He insisted that ALL lists of things should use semi-colons instead of commas. So if ordering office supplies I would need to get paper clips; staples; and envelopes. He was somehow considered our resident proofreader for all formal materials, too.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Eh, that one works *if* you’ve got items in your list that have commas in them, for clarity.

          Paper clips, large, staples, and envelopes, with windows
          Paperclips, large; staples; and envelopes, with windows

          But it looks awkward if there’s no commas involved at all.

        1. Jadelyn*

          I mean…like…there’s even a name for the error resulting when you substitute a comma where a semicolon should’ve been! A pair of independent clauses with a semicolon between them is working as intended; do the same with two clauses and a comma separating them and that’s a comma splice.

  11. PSB*

    It’s also striking in #2 that the LW was apparently not told what was in the performance plan before the review. Every employee should always be given a copy of their performance plan either when they start in the position or the beginning of the review period. A surprise rating on a review is bad enough. A surprise review area just shouldn’t happen.

  12. WorkIsADarkComedy*

    OP#3 would would be doing future interviewees a favor if you DIDN’T tell the recruiter about how awful the interviewer was. If they are someone that the interviewee would be working with closely, those interviewees would want the same opportunity you had to see the person in action and decide accordingly.

    1. Kimberlee, No Longer Esq.*

      I mean, the goal with the feedback is that the org can decide to do something about it, ie, train the guy up on how to interview candidates, determine what info exactly he thinks he’s getting from that interview format, etc, and improve the situation. I can see your point, that if you have to work with the office asshole it’s better to see him being an asshole in the interview, but the best solution overall is for the org to decide that it doesn’t want to have an office asshole, and do something about it.

      1. WorkIsADarkComedy*

        Kimberlee, I wish I were less cynical. But my feeling is that the company knows very well what the asshole is like in the workplace and hasn’t done anything about it. I suspect that if they were to do anything in response to OP#1’s comment it would be to simply hide the asshole during the interview.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Having the asshole interview in his genuine persona is simply providing fair warning. to job candidates. Train him to play nice for the one hour of the interview and you are misleading the candidates. Better for future candidates to get the opportunity to see the reality.

    2. PM*

      I dropped out of an interview process when it became clear that the CEO was the office asshole. After three interviewers spent time telling me how awful he was, one of them assured me that it wasn’t so bad because “it’s never violent, never physical” and I decided my bar for workplace culture was way higher than that.

  13. Katertot*

    My workplace does this too. I am guessing if it’s a state law though that it isn’t illegal here (TX).

    It should be though. It should never be assumed that someone has taken any kind of unpaid time.

        1. fposte*

          That’s legal at a public employer in TX. However, they can’t just duck FLSA on the break issue. My guess–it looks from other documentation like the university requires the half-hour break (despite the fact that the state of Texas doesn’t), and managers aren’t enforcing it the way they should.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Not necessarily – universities and government orgs have entirely different rules than private employers do around stuff like comp time vs OT.

          2. Katertot*

            Not exempt exactly – there are employees that clock in and out and are eligible for comp time, and employees that aren’t required to track their time.

      1. Partly Cloudy*

        The rules/laws for government employees is often different than for the private sector.

        And having a timekeeping system that automatically deducts a lunch break isn’t inherently illegal, if everyone actually takes said break. Some companies use it so that people don’t have to remember/take time to go to the time clock but are still taking the break.

        1. Me*

          The federal government is generally exempt from it’s own rules, but non-fed government employees are not, in general. I work for local. We have to pay our employees for what they worked – even if there’s no OT budget, they weren’t approved to work OT and they didn’t sign a comp time agreement so we can’t give them comp time instead. We’re in the red. They still get paid.

          I am betting however that the university system has more salaried that hourly employees which gets a little fuzzier on paid breaks in practice.

          You are correct in that the time sheet system is not inherently illegal, but if people aren’t taking that break then it doesn’t matter if it wasn’t meant to be illegal, it’s a labor lawsuit waiting to happen.

          1. fposte*

            Your government may not follow the practice (my employer doesn’t, either) but it’s legal for state and local government non-exempt employees to have comp time instead of OT.

  14. Kimberlee, No Longer Esq.*

    I told a previous employer that they were doing something illegal once. I think I framed it as “Hey, maybe I’m wrong about this, but this law seems to indicate blah blah blah.” Prompting them to actually look at the law and determine for themselves they were not in compliance.

    In my case, it was a fairly recently-passed law that, certainly, SOMEONE in the HR office should have been aware of, but I knew they just likely weren’t, and that was sufficient.

    Course, they took 6 months before they got into compliance, but… eventually, they did!

  15. Richard Hershberger*

    OP4: There is a body of standard English usage shibboleths that, while not actually rules of English grammar, people latch onto. My usual advice is that if someone in a position of authority over you holds to one of these shibboleths, the path of least resistance is to go with it, while discreetly rolling your eyes.

    You are getting off easy. Sticking a “Dear Jane” to the beginning of an email is easy to remember to do. It would be far worse if your grandboss fixated on split infinitives, or even worse, on the passive voice. The vast majority of people who complain about it have only the vaguest notion of what the passive voice is, and in fact use it routinely. Indeed, it would be really weird to write without using it. You can’t win this one.

    1. banzo_bean*

      Oh wow, I haven’t heard the phrase “shibboleth” used since college! Cross Cultural Communication is all coming back to me.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        So tell me how you pronounce it. No pressure, but your future well being depends on your answer…

    2. Emi.*

      I was once told that it’s incorrect to use *any form* of the verb “to be,” because it’s the passive voice and therefore “weak writing.”

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        “And God said unto Moses, I Am That I Am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you.” Exodus 3:14.

        Weak writing my ass.

      2. Jadelyn*

        I had a terrible English teacher once in high school, who decided I used passive voice too much. I disagreed then and disagree now, but what killed me was she went through a story I’d written for our creative writing unit and circled literally every single instance of “be” or any of its conjugates – completely without regard to context or whether it actually was a passive-voice construction or not. Literally every single one, including constructions like “the sky is blue”. At which point I stopped even taking her advice under consideration and pretty much did as I liked the rest of the year. If you’re so dead-set on something that you can’t even consider context, instead just doing a ctrl-f for “is” and assuming every single one of them is incorrect…you shouldn’t be teaching other people how to write.

        It’s like the “said is dead” folks. There is such a thing as overusing certain constructions – passive voice, “said”, whatever – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be allowed to use them in any context or situation ever.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yeah, I had writing teachers (partly for creative writing) who were very hung up on “said” being Bad. I bet the whole class’s work was full of Tom Swifties. Took me years to break that bad habit.

      3. Former Church Lady in HR*

        All of my English teachers back in school would be rolling in their graves. We learned that passive voice has a place in writing when used correctly.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          Not an English teacher here, but I do have a degree in English, and my eyes were threatening to roll right out of my head as I was reading this thread!

  16. Blarg*

    I have the class action lawsuit check that proves this is illegal. Maybe mention that. I worked at this org for just over a year and received $1400. I can only imagine how much people who worked there for a decade or more got.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Also that back pay and interest they paid you on your stolen time, isn’t their only pay out.

      So yeah say they paid everyone on average 1400 back pay [just for simplicity sake], for 100 employees. 140K in wages. The DOL slaps your face with the penalties and interest glove as well. So they’re paying out closer to 200k in the end afterwards. If not more, some of those penalties are per-employee. So the more employees you stiff, the more you’re getting drug through the mud with penalties.

      1. Blarg*

        And fun fact: wage theft is considered to be a civil rights violation, so the settlement amount is not subject to federal income taxes as it is for other suit types. However, you still have to report it and document everything. Or you will deal with the IRS. Not that I learned from experience …

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yes, you have to document it because in the event of an audit, they’re going to need your documentation in place.

          Since they just follow money, so if they see you’ve had a large payment, they’re going to be all “What’s that tho” and they want the receipts saying “it’s a settlement, bro, you can’t have any of that!”

          I haven’t dealt with them personally but it’s also a thing you do with gifts and inheritance, a chunk of it is often sheltered but you have to still report it for the record.

          I’m sorry it sideswiped you though, it happens to just about everyone who doesn’t have a tax preparer and is otherwise just filing regular EZ forms.

  17. r.d.*

    #4 Might be cultural, especially if it’s a multinational company.

    Emails I receive from the middle east and parts of Asia, especially India, are addressed to “Dear so and so”.

    You see the most dramatic code switch with our Indian sales rep. He addresses emails to the American team with “Hi Joe” and those to customers with “Dear Mr. Lastname”. In the body of the email to customers it’s “kindly do the needful and provide x, y, & z,” backed into a long paragraph, sometimes two. Then he forwards something to us and it’s “Please sign. Thanks.”

  18. actually it's me*

    I appreciate this site and think Alison’s advice is generally excellent. I have an issue, though, with the HR script — I think it relies too much on softening/qualifying language, which can backfire:

    It’s actually not required to use the word actually in every suggested script. Of course it’s Alison’s website, so she can phrase scripts how she likes, but it could come off as somewhat passive aggressive.

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      I think I agree with you if the LW is senior (I can’t tell from the letter). But if she’s just some rando employee pointing this out, a softer “I could be wrong” kind of approach might go over better.

  19. Don't Blame the Ozone Layer*

    I can’t see the value in picking a fight with HR. They’re never a friend, sometimes an enemy, and at best neutral.

    Do what they say and don’t cause a fuss.

    1. Don't Blame the Ozone Layer*

      But – they have all the power and us plebes – certainly those of us who would be under such a rule anyway – have none. Yes, even if they’re doing something illegal. I mean, report them to an employment agency I guess, but certainly don’t take them on head-on.

      1. BuildMeUp*

        Allison is not suggesting to “take them on head-on”, though. Did you read the end of her advice for question #1? She specifically suggests to phrase the response a certain way to keep it from being adversarial.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        You are in a very toxic, bad company if this is what you’re dealing with. It’s not normal and it’s illegal to fire you for bringing up their illegal behavior as well, so you would get unemployment plus a settlement if they were brazen enough to fire you for “picking a fight” with them about wage theft they’re engaging in.

        HR should not be feared and is not all-mighty, seriously. Most are pretty toothless.

  20. Junior Assistant Peon*

    Is automatically deducting a lunch period commonly illegal? I worked in a few blue collar environments before I started my career. One place, we clocked out for lunch, and at the other place, we ate lunch while clocked in and automatically had 30 minutes deducted. I think the automatic 30 minute deduction was just a convenience thing to eliminate punching out and back in, rather than an attempt to force people to take their breaks or punish them for failing to do it.

    1. Fikly*

      It’s only illegal if you’re working and not taking an actual lunch break, but still getting your pay deducted.

      At my old job, they added a major job responsibility, but did not hire an extra person. Shocking none of us, there was no longer anyone available to cover breaks. So no one could take a lunch break, but then we got in trouble with our boss for submitting the form that said we hadn’t been able to take our lunch break, thus we needed to get paid for it. Which I’m sure he was calling us out for because it was coming from above him – he was usually decent. So we were strongly encouraged to participate in having our wages stolen from us.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Since you all took lunch, it was okay to not make you clock out and just do it for you.

      We’ve done that before at places but it was all the kind of job where you close down the entire production for that 30-60 minutes so that everyone was done, no stragglers left behind kind of setup.

      We did it because then you’d have a line of 25 people at the start of lunch, punching out and wasting who knows how much time and then the same going back in! It was for the production time and also so the folks didn’t waste their time waiting to clock out. Go sit! Go eat!

  21. Hey Nonny-nonny and a Ho Ho HO*

    Ugh…one of the statements we have to respond to on our employee engagement survey is “I have a best friend at work” (then you pick something along the lines of agree, disagree, etc…)

    1. MechanicalPencil*

      I would be looking for the N/A option because whutttt. Unless I can count the coffee maker or ice machine. Then maybe.

    2. T2*

      I am aghast at this. I do not have friends at work period. I keep my work life and social life strictly separated.

      I am not rude, but I am at work for economic reasons. Not for a social club.

    3. Liane*

      As long as it doesn’t require you fill in their name, I’d just click Completely Agree. And remind yourself to never reveal to anyone that your Work BFF is AAM, your desk plant/toy/decoration, or the XKCD comic on the bulletin board.

      1. Jadelyn*

        I have a small glitter-coated black skull on my desk. From now on, I will be calling him Yorick and he is my new work bestie.

    4. MySherona*

      This is a question of significance for engagement and retention (and other) metrics in the Gallup survey. We get a lot of push back on it from our employees where I work (automotive,) who also find it weird. But it’s a thing.

    5. Arctic*

      That bothers me less than what OP is describing. You aren’t necessarily being penalized for not having a best friend at work.
      But people who do happen to have a close work friend are somewhat more likely to stay on the job.

    6. The New Wanderer*

      Using the “friend” angle makes no sense at all. It says nothing about actual work quality in any way and doesn’t necessarily speak to employee engagement. I mean, if you have a best friend and both of you regularly complain about the company and share job search tips, you’ll happen to score high on engagement while actively demonstrating the opposite. Ditto for any cliques – maybe they’ll never leave the company but it doesn’t make for a great environment for non-cliquers.

      I think the soft skills they’re trying to capture are, are you approachable and willing to collaborate to accomplish something work related. Those thing make for both good coworkers and good friends, but only one of those categories matters at work.

    7. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      I know someone who had that in their employee engagement survey as well! We had a good laugh over it- such a weird question for something work related. Perfectly fine to make friends at work or be friendly with coworkers. But to be evaluated on it or have it measured in a survey is just strange. You’d think a company would have bigger fish to fry than that.

  22. Brett*

    OP definitely needs to let the company know this. This is extremely important decision making information when it has such a significant impact of one of a potential six employees!
    (And if OP would be in charge of growing and managing a team, then OP’s network in city Y could be far more important than old boss’s and CEO’s network in city X. That is another key point for their decision making.)

  23. Alexis Rose*

    Being so pedantic about opening greetings in emails is such a colossal waste of time, in my opinion. I wish I had so few problems that I had the emotional bandwidth to spend on something so trivial. Like really, good morning, hi, hello are all more than fine and perfectly polite.

    I would step in if someone was starting an email with “YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” or one of the specific combinations of letters that most of the population has been socialized to consider “swearing”, but beyond that, I think for the most part people are just fine using generic greetings.

    1. Samwise*


      That’s the one that sends me right over the edge.

      Members of my preferred political party (office holders and wannabes) seem to think it’s folksy! and friendly! I am too old to want to be folksy or friendly with anyone who is not my actual friend. I reply back to those emails with a rather frosty suggestion that they give some thought to their audience if they want any more money from me. Haven’t heard back from a one, but I *have* saved a fair amount of money.

  24. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

    I’ve been wondering how to approach HR about them not following a new state law. My state just enacted paid parental leave (to go into effect next year), and I specifically reached out to the state to ask if both parents are entitled to 12 weeks of leave each, even if they work for the same employer. The state confirmed yes; however, our HR policy states that if both parents are employed here they have to split the 12 weeks between them. I don’t want to proactively tell HR I’m planning to use this benefit in the coming months, but I also don’t want to wait until I’m far enough along to announce my pregnancy at work in case it takes months to get through the bureaucracy here.

    1. PM*

      It’s possible that the policy needs to be updated, especially if your employer is not headquartered in your state. I’d reach out to your HR business partner and tell them what you learned and ask for clarification of the policy.

      You don’t need to tell them about your plans. You could say that you’re asking on behalf of a friend if you think they’ll make assumptions. Good HR people don’t make assumptions and don’t want to know your business unless they have to, but not everyone has good HR people.

      1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        Thanks. I actually think they updated parts of the policy (it now references the new state law) but they probably didn’t look at the whole thing. I work for a university so while I trust them to be competent at their jobs, I’m afraid word will get around.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, I bet that’s the old law still hanging in that section. That’s great that the state’s going beyond FMLA on that.

  25. PhyllisB*

    I used to live in a town with a garment factory when I was young, and the whole town lived by the whistles. Start, lunch, end. I don’t think they had a whistle for short breaks, but maybe they did and I don’t remember.

  26. Sleepless*

    My old boss (small company with 30 employees) made a new employee manual when I was several years in. One of the new rules was no discussing your salary with other employees.

    I thought about (nicely) letting her know that was illegal. Then I decided to keep my trap shut. Not my circus.

  27. Safely Retired*

    In my first email to someone I do not know, or have barely had any contact with, I will use Dear. In subsequent email with the same person I will vary depending on the response to the first message, and how the relationship (if any) is proceeding. I also use Dear when contacting an organization without any particular name to direct it to, as in Dear Tech Support, or Dear . Works for me.

  28. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    #4: I once had a coworker who started all internal and external emails with “Dear (fill in name).” I can see using that salutation in a first-time email to a new client of one chooses, although I usually use “Good Morning (fill in name)” or even “Hi (fill in name).” Using “Dear” in even the most casual internal emails made her come across as…odd.

  29. Myrcallie*

    My HR Director was mad at me for months after I told her she was breaking the Equality Act last year (she tried to fire me for not disclosing a disability when I was hired, so I printed the bit of the act that said that disclosure is not mandatory and brought it in to a meeting with her). On the plus side, it did get her to back down- I think she was genuinely taken aback that someone had stood up to her.

  30. Miles Togo*

    I once worked for an attorney (yes, an attorney!!) who did this very same thing. I tried and TRIED to tell her this was illegal. She did not care. I had to tell our staff anyway. In the end, it never actually happened; no one was actually docked illegally. Incidentally, this attorney also illegally categorized staff as salaried-exempt when they should have been hourly (to avoid overtime pay), improperly docked PTO time, and improperly used her IOLTA account to pay for personal expenses.

    I worked there way too long. I still have nightmares.

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