Can an Ontario employer control where employees go during lunch break:
By Ontario Ministry of Labour | January 20, 2012
Is an employer required to pay their employees for lunch, if they are not allowed to leave the building in Ontario? We have 1 hour for lunch with only 30 minutes paid and are not allowed to leave the building.
Ontario Ministry of Labour answered:
A representative at the Employment Standards branch answered this question simply: yes.
First, the Act does not prohibit an employer from requiring employees to stay in the building during lunch, so this is allowed.
Second, the employer only need to ensure that it complies with sections 20 and 21 of the Employment Standards legislation.
Section 20 sets out the provision of lunch to employees after a certain amount of time worked. Employers must ensure that employees have a 30 minute eating period and the employee cannot be made to work more than 5 hours consecutively without an eating period.
The only time an employer is required to pay an employee during the eating period is when work is being done or the employee's contract require that the employee be paid for this time.
Although it is often done, the employer is not required to give employees a 1 hour lunch.
Since there is no relationship between an employer controlling the wherabouts of employees and the eating period under the legislation, employers can require employees to stay in the building for lunch without being paid for the full lunch break (or for any of the lunch break for that matter, if the employment contract does not require it.)
Clearly, however, there may be concerns from employees who would like to use the lunch break to take care of personal business like running errands or eating out at a restaurant. The Employment Standards representative suggested that if this is the case, the employees might want to get together as a group and ask the employer to reconsider its lunch policy.
Finally, this answer assumes that your workplace is a standard workplace that falls under Ontario's Employment Standards Act (ESA).