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Banned From Eating Lunch Together?

Banned From Eating Lunch Together?

Does your company have a similar policy?

Alison Green l Ask A Manager

A reader writes:

My sister works in a local government office. Most of the time, she eats lunch alone at her own desk, but sometimes she will eat with some of her coworkers in one of their cubicles.

Recently, one of the coworker’s supervisor came to them during lunch and told them that her supervisor (“Betty”) asked her to come tell them that they can’t eat lunch together (i.e., they can’t eat with other people).

No real reason was given, other than “I’m sorry I have to tell you this, but Betty asked me to…” The general consensus amongst my sister and her friends is that Betty feels left out. Though Betty eats lunch with a friend every day, she doesn’t socialize much with the staff. (There are some days the office orders takeout or if it’s someone’s birthday – where everyone in the office eats together).

Just based on what my sister told me (I don’t personally know anyone else in her office), it seems a bit like Betty is afraid other workers will think my sister and her friends are being clique-ish. They are all of the same race and when they chat, they sometimes switch back and forth between English and their native (foreign) language. My guess is that if it were a group of racially or ethnically diverse workers, no one would care if they were eating together or not – but that’s a different story. In general, there are groups of people who eat lunch together, and there are some people who eat by themselves.

Does an employer have the right to dictate who you eat lunch with, and more importantly, should they? The lunch break is 30 minutes, unpaid. There is an area with a fridge and microwave, but no chairs/tables to eat at so everyone eats inside their cubicles (no rule forbidding this).

On the one hand, I guess they can make rules about this because you are on company property. And cliques in the workplace are bad. I hate them. On the other hand, I think this is silly. It’s one thing to tell workers to limit their congregating during work hours. But this is a lunch break and it’s unpaid.

I think I would ask management to clarify the policy regarding lunch. How am I supposed to follow rules/policies, when we aren’t told until we “break” them? (At least, these “rules” on lunch are not written down – they have official policies on dress code, work hours, etc).

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