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Lack of proper compensation, meal breaks

Q. As a pharmacist in charge, I am responsible for the workings of the pharmacy as it is under my license, but I am not the manager of my work partner as we all report to an area supervisor, nor am I a manager of the store as there is a store manager. This is the background. I have 2 questions:

I am paid for my time hourly as a pharmacist. I report to the same fixed location to work everyday. I am required to attend 'mandatory' offsite meetings lasting approximately 4 hours usually at some distant location generally monthly. Please note that if scheduled for work, I am to arrange time so that I can go to such meetings and work the time spent away another day. If I am not working that day, I am required to attend this meeting.

Additionally, the yearly reviews last no more than 2 hours always scheduled on days not working again at some distant location. Should I be able to be compensated for travel time, time spent at the meetings, and also time while I am there along with mileage?

Also, working as a pharmacist, we are told we should be professional enough to find time for meals yet it is almost impossible to have lunch when someone always comes up to the counter. At other companies, they close the location to have lunch yet the company does not allow us to close as we are required to serve the customer. How can meals be taken when you are at the same time required to work? How does a person technically take a meal break by the 'rules'? What does a meal break mean? A person takes a break to eat something without being on duty?

A: These are two very good questions. Let me address the first question. It sounds like you are an hourly employee or what is called a non-exempt employee. This means that you are paid for exactly the time you work and only for that time. If your company asks you to attend offsite meetings, you should certainly be compensated for them, including travel time and time spent at the actual meeting. In addition, when the company asks you to travel to another destination that is not your primary work location, you should be compensated for mileage from your home to the offsite location and back home again.

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It is also worth noting that assuming no union contract is involved, an employer has a legal obligation to pay overtime after 40 hours in a work week - at time and a half the regular hourly rate - unless the employee is exempt from overtime, which it does not sound that you are if “you are paid for your time hourly as a pharmacist.”

For more questions about hourly wages, direct your calls to the Attorney General’s Fair Labor and Business Practices Division, 200 Portland Street, Boston, MA 02114 at 617-727-3465.

As for being given a break to eat a meal, Massachusetts law requires that an employee who works more than six hours a day must be allowed a meal break of 30 minutes. There are certain statutory exceptions to this requirement. The company should provide someone to relieve you so that you can eat a snack or meal or do whatever you choose to do during your time away. You should be able to leave the actual work site during this period.

Having cited the law, however, I must say in all of my experience, I have never heard of an employer not providing some kind of a break every 3-4 hours for at least 10 minutes. In order to serve the customer in the best way, employees need to get off the floor for a few minutes and refresh themselves. It sounds like your company does not have enough pharmacists on the floor so that employees can take those much needed breaks. They may be able to keep you during the recession, but companies that don’t treat their employees well will be left in the lurch when the economy improves.

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