Ask HR: My manager canceled lunch breaks. Also, should I give more than 2-weeks notice for retirement?
Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human-resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is the president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest HR professional society.
The questions submitted by readers and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity. Have an HR question you think he can answer? Submit it here.
Question: We're on call all the time as part of a maintenance team. Recently, a manager informed us we are no longer allowed to take breaks for lunch or other reasons. Previously, we had 30 minutes for lunch and two 15-minute breaks. Now if we take them, we're told we have to stay an extra hour. I'm reaching out to my union representative, but wanted to know: Can companies cancel breaks and lunch whenever they want? — Curtis H.
Answer: Generally, your employer gets to determine your work schedule, and a schedule can be changed without your consent, unless the change violates an existing collective bargaining agreement or employment contract.
Your best bet is to talk to your union rep. The rep should be able to tell you if meal or rest breaks are part of your negotiated contract. If breaks aren't in the contract, you may be out of luck.
The federal law that outlines an employer's wage-and-hour obligations does not require an employer to provide meal or rest breaks.
But some states have laws that require employers to provide workers with breaks. For example, employers in California must provide unpaid meal breaks and paid rest breaks if workers put in more than a certain number of hours in a day.
You should check to see if your state has a similar regulation. If so, you can contact your state department of labor or industrial relations for help.
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Q: I am 64 and an executive at our company. I plan on retiring the end of the year. When should I notify the company? Can they just tell me to hit the door? I want them to have time to replace me but need my benefits until the year's end. —Michael
A: Generally speaking, employers only request — don't require — exiting employees to give notice. That's the good news. The bad news is that, absent a contract or a written policy, they don't have to give you any notice either, which you rightly pointed out means that they can tell you to hit the door the day you tell them of your planned retirement.
Because you're an executive, you may have a contractual obligation to give notice. But even if you don't, it's pretty standard for an executive-level person to give more than a two-week notice to ensure a smooth and orderly transition so the company can find your replacement. But this is all going to come down to trust.
Ultimately, only you know how much you can trust your current employer. If you believe they will respect your contributions over the years and allow you to respectfully transition, you should tell them sooner rather than later. If your "gut" says they'll retaliate, don't tell them.
No matter what path you take, you will likely be eligible to continue your health care benefits. Under federal law, most employers with 20 or more employees that offer a group health plan are required to offer COBRA continuation to most covered, departing workers.
While COBRA coverage is often significantly more expensive than the insurance premium you pay as an employee, it's still a comfort to know you will not have a break in health care insurance coverage.
Determining when and if to provide notice of retirement is a personal choice — and most people don't tell their employer for the very reasons you point out. Your company is lucky to have someone such as you who wants to do the right thing.
Best wishes in your coming retirement.
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