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Who is allowed 'free' time during lunch?


I am a teachers aide. My principal said that I have to leave the cafeteria while the teacher and students I work with eat lunch. I feel badly getting free time while the teacher has to eat with our students. Why do I get free time and the teacher does not?

Back to school means packing your lunch and questions about when and how you get to eat it. No state or federal law forces Virginia employers to give employees a meal break. Some other states have statutes that require a meal break for an employee who works more than a specified number of hours, but not Virginia.

Virginia does not guarantee teachers duty-free lunch. State Board of Education Regulations requires each school division to report "the extent to which an unencumbered lunch is provided all teachers." And the Duty Free Lunch Incentive Fund established in Virginia Code section 22.1-291 encourages school divisions to provide duty free lunch by giving them a share of any state money included in the fund.

You get relieved of duties at lunch, but the teacher does not, because you have a different status under federal wage and hour law. Teachers are exempt from the minimum wage and overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act because teachers are professionals. Teacher aides and other educational support personnel usually are not exempt because they are not salaried and do not perform managerial or discretionary office functions. So they must be paid for all hours worked. If you ate lunch with your students, that time would have to be counted and paid as working time.

You and your teacher colleague can follow up with your local UniServ director. The Association will make sure you are properly paid for working time and that school policy is being followed.


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