LABOR LAW: Every employee has a right to 60 minutes of meal break every day.

WHAT IS THE GENERAL RULE ON MEAL PERIODS? As a general rule, every employer is required to give his employees, regardless of sex, not less than one (1) hour (or 60 minutes) time-off for regular meals.

Being time-off, it is not compensable hours worked. In this case, the employee is free to do anything he wants, except to work. If he is required, however, to work while eating, he should be compensated therefor.

CAN MEAL TIME BE LESSENED TO NOT LESS THAN 20 MINUTES? In the following cases, a meal period of not less than twenty (20) minutes may be given by the employer provided that such shorter meal period is credited as compensable hours worked of the employee:

[1] Where the work is non-manual work in nature or does not involve strenuous physical exertion;
[2] Where the establishment regularly operates for not less than sixteen (16) hours a day;
[3] In cases of actual or impending emergencies or when there is urgent work to be performed on machineries, equipment or installations to avoid serious losses which the employer would otherwise suffer, and;
[4] Where the work is necessary to prevent serious loss of perishable goods.
WHEN IS IT NOT COMPENSABLE TO SHORTEN OF MEAL TIME TO NOT LESS THAN 20 MINUTES? The law allows a situation where the employees themselves request for the shortening of meal period to not less than twenty (20) minutes (say, thirty minutes, or from 12:00 to 12:30 p.m. instead of 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. ) for the purpose of allowing them to leave work earlier than the lapse of the eight (8) hours required by law (say, 4:30 p.m. instead of 5:00 p.m. ) . This shortened period, however, shall not be considered compensable working time provided the following conditions are complied with:

[1] The employees voluntarily agree in writing to a shortened meal period of thirty (30) minutes and are willing to waive the overtime pay for such shortened meal period;
[2] There should be no diminution in the benefits of the employees which they receive prior to the effectivity of the shortened meal period;
[3] The work of the employees does not involve strenuous physical exertion and they are provided with adequate coffee breaks in the morning and afternoon;
[4] The value of the benefits derived by the employees from the proposed work arrangement is equal to or commensurate with the compensation due them for the shortened meal period as well as the overtime pay for 30 minutes as determined by the employees concerned;
[5] The overtime pay of the employees will become due and demandable if ever they are permitted or made to work beyond 4:30 p.m., and;
[6] The effectivity of the proposed working time arrangement shall be for a temporary duration as determined by the DOLE Secretary.
WHAT IS THE EFFECT OF SHORTENED MEAL TIME TO LESS THAN 20 MINUTES? The law does not allow that meal time be shortened to less than twenty (20) minutes. If so reduced, the same shall no longer be considered as meal time but merely as rest period or coffee break and, therefore, becomes compensable working time.

THE SIME DARBY PILIPINAS CASE ON PAID 30-MINUTE ON-CALL LUNCH BREAKS CHANGED TO 1-HOUR UNPAID ONES: The case of Sime Darby Pilipinas, Inc. v. NLRC, is illustrative of this point. Prior to the present controversy, all company factory workers in Marikina including members of private respondent union worked from 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. with a 30-minute paid “on call” lunch break. Petitioner, by way of a memorandum, changed the meal time schedule from 30 minutes to one (1) hour without pay. Since private respondent union felt affected adversely by the change in the work schedule and discontinuance of the 30-minute paid “on call” lunch break, it filed on behalf of its members a complaint with the Labor Arbiter for unfair labor practice, discrimination and evasion of liability. In declaring the change in the work schedule as valid, the Supreme Court held:
“(The petitioner) rationalizes that while the old work schedule included a 30-minute paid lunch break, the employees could be called upon to do jobs during that period as they were ‘on call. ’  Even if denominated as lunch break, this period could very well be considered as working time because the factory employees were required to work if necessary and were paid accordingly for working. With the new work schedule, the employees are now given a one-hour lunch break without any interruption from their employer. For a full one-hour undisturbed lunch break, the employees can freely and effectively use this hour not only for eating but also for their rest and comfort which are conducive to more efficiency and better performance in their work.   Since the employees are no longer required to work during this one-hour lunch break, there is no more need for them to be compensated for this period.  We agree with the Labor Arbiter that the new work schedule fully complies with the daily work period of eight (8) hours without violating the Labor Code. Besides, the new schedule applies to all employees in the factory similarly situated whether they are union members or not.”

MEAL TIME INVOLVING SEVERAL SHIFTS: In a company where work is continuous for several shifts, the mealtime breaks should be counted as working time for purposes of overtime compensation. Consequently, the workers who are required to work in two (2) full successive shifts should be paid for sixteen (16) hours and not fourteen (14) , the two hours for rest or mealtime breaks being included as compensable working time. The idle time that an employee may spend for resting wherein he may leave the work area should not be counted as working time only when the work is not continuous.