The 1-hour meal period should be uninterrupted. Did you know that you can shorten it?

The Labor Code provides that employees should be afforded a 1-hour meal period for every day of work. It expressly provides that it should be continuous and uninterrupted. The purpose of this is to ensure that the employees should be given ample opportunity to take their meals and take a long rest during their work shift.

The law broadly uses the term “meal period” and thus it is not limited to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It may include a meal in between a graveyard shift (e.g. around 12:00 midnight). Thus, an employee should be provided a 1-hour meal period in-between his 8-hour work regardless of the time of the shift. 

However, the 1-hour meal period may be shortened. The employer may decide to shorten the meal period to not lesser than 20 minutes (i.e. it can be 30 minutes) provided that certain conditions are met.

First, the shortened meal period will be credited as a compensable working hour. Meaning, the counting of the employee’s 8-hour shift will include the shortened meal period. Instead of spending 9 hours (8-hour work + 1-hour meal period), the employee will only spend 8 hours with the shortened meal period counted (e.g. 8-hour work, inclusive of 20-minute meal period).

Second, the shortened meal period may only be implemented under these situations: (1)  where the work is non-manual in nature or does not involve strenuous physical exertion; or (2) where the establishment regularly operates not less than 16 hours a day; or (3) in cases of actual or impending emergencies or there is urgent work to be performed on machineries, equipment, or installations to avoid serious loss which the employer would otherwise suffer; and (4) where the work is necessary to prevent serious loss of perishable goods.

Why does the law allow the shortening of the 1-hour meal period?

It works in favor of both the employer and the employee.

The employer will be able to ensure continuity of work, where otherwise a 1-hour meal period would interrupt it. Also, the operational cost for running the office would lessen as the use of electricity and other utilities would be shortened as well.

On the other hand, the employee may be able to go home early and lessen time at the office. This could result in less work stress, better health, and more productivity.

May an employer apply it to a one-off workday or a group of employees only?

There is no express provision of law on how the shortened meal period may be regulated. Hence, without such limitations, the employer may validly exercise its management prerogative so long as it is done in good faith and with due regard to the rights of the employees.

Hence, it is possible that the employer may require an employee to shorten its meal period on a given day and revert back to the 1-hour meal period the following day. Likewise, a group of employees may be allowed a shorter meal period, while the others will not be permitted (e.g. those with manual or strenuous work).

Does this rule apply to managers and the managerial staff?

Yes, these apply to managers and the managerial staff (they are human being who need to eat as well).

The issue that presents itself is how many times. Managers and managerial employees are not covered by the 8-hour work day. Otherwise stated, they could be made to work for as long as is necessary (in excess of 8 hours). For a 12-hour shift, there could possibly be 2 meal periods.

On these situations, the employer should remember to exercise its management prerogatives in good faith. While the managers and managerial staff are outside the coverage of some provisions in the Labor Code, it should be borne in mind that they are employees as well.

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References: Article 82 of the Labor Code and its implementing rules.