Not that long ago (but definitely pre COVID) a well known chain of serviced offices asked me to put on a series of presentations for the multitude of businesses that rented space from them.  I was labelled as a “member benefit” in that if you had an office licence agreement with them, you could attend any of my talks for free, as well as ask me questions afterwards that were specific to your needs.  A great offering from the landlord and a great introduction to new clients for me.  Happy days!

Having agreed that I was happy to do to the talks (shutting me up was going to be the challenge) and having agreed on what I was going to talk about (just about anything you like so long as it’s legal), we then got on to the interesting topic of when we were going to run the series.

Being a morning person, I suggested first thing – people could drop in for an early morning coffee and a quick summary of everything you need to know about employment law, trading with the EU and copyright agreements, before heading off to earn their first million.  A few people in the room suggested after hours, and when I looked a little anxious, they promised me that there would be alcohol, which brought the smile back to my face.

Then some bright spark in the room suggested doing it at lunchtime.  The event was going to be titled “lunch and learn” the idea being that we’d offer you a good excuse to get away from your desk but still be productive, and we’d feed you at the same time.  A few of the older members of the group were very enthusiastic about this, talking about how people could make good use of the “lunch hour” which is not a phrase I hear very often these days.

I explained that I was happy to do it at any time that they liked, but

  1. Legally there is no automatic right to a “lunch hour” – which came as quite a shock to a few people.  Under statute, if you work for more than 6 hours a day, your employer must give you at least 20 minutes off during the day (ie not at the beginning or the end) but they don’t have to give you any more than that and it doesn’t have to be all at once.  So it could be a 10 minute coffee break in the morning and a 10 minute tea break in the afternoon – although obviously you don’t actually have to drink tea or coffee at those times!
  2. If your contract says that you get an hour off for lunch, then you have a contractual right to take that time, but attending a training session during that period would probably not amount to having time off, and so making your staff attend might either put you in breach of contract, or would mean that they were due time off in lieu, which might defeat the object.
  3. In a world where we are much more aware of the need to look after our mental health as well as our physical health, going straight from your desk, to a training session, back to your desk, without the chance to relax, even for just ten minutes may not be health.

We compromised in the end and put a few on at different times of the day, but interestingly the evening ones (with the alcohol) were the best attended, which I’m sure was just because I was at my sparkling best!

Whether you are an employer or an employee (or simply a provider of office space) it’s never a good idea to take things for granted.   Simply because you’ve always taken an hour for lunch, doesn’t mean you are automatically entitled to do so.  If you are changing job, your new employer may have cultural differences about time off during the day.  If you are the employer, make sure things are made clear to your employee.  If they’ve been taking time off for lunch and you’ve never noticed, they may have acquired the right to do so and it may be difficult for you to withdraw it, depending on how long it’s been going on for.

If in doubt, as the training sessions are currently on hold, I’m free for lunch and learn any time you like!

Kleyman & Co Solicitors.  The full service law firm.  Happy to teach you a thing or two, morning, noon and night.