Boss, I’m hungry! How can my employer influence my diet at work?

Ms. Irena contacted the office of the Accessible Lawyer with an interesting question. According to her, her employer had prohibited her from eating at work, and Ms. Irena did not like the prohibition. She questioned whether her boss had the right to do so.

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Employers’ obligations in the area of catering

Employers’ legal obligations regarding employee meals are quite clear. In particular, the obligation to provide the employee with a meal and rest break of at least 30 minutes (or at least 15 minutes if the meal and rest break has been split) after no more than 6 hours of continuous work. In the case of a juvenile employee, this break must be given after a maximum of 4.5 hours of work. Breaks taken shall not be counted as part of the working time.

At the same time, the Labour Code states that the employer is obliged to provide employees with meals in all shifts. However, this does not mean an obligation to provide or finance meals directly, but only to allow meals. The provision of meals includes their organisation, i.e. in particular the provision of the aforementioned meal and rest breaks of such a length that employees have a realistic opportunity to eat in nearby restaurants or shops during the break. Where such a possibility does not exist at remote workplaces, the employer shall fulfil this obligation, for example, by providing and equipping an area where employees can heat up their food and eat or by allowing them to purchase snacks on the employer’s premises. An increasingly common way of providing lunch at work is to have food delivered by courier.

Tip: A meal voucher allowance is a common form of employer support for employee meals and is definitely the most sought-after benefit by employees. Today, over 46% of all employees receive meal vouchers. The advantage for employers is that it is a tax-deductible expense and the meal voucher allowance is not subject to health and social security contributions or income tax. From 2021, employers can choose whether to provide their employees with a paper or electronic meal voucher or a flat-rate meal voucher. According to the current decree of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the optimal value of a meal voucher has increased to CZK 194 in 2023 from CZK 150 last year. The significant increase is mainly due to the rise in consumer prices in recent months. However, only a minimum number of companies provide food vouchers to their employees in the above amount.

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What can an employer do voluntarily in the area of catering?

So much for obligations. Of course, the employer also has powers in this respect, i.e. the right to actually provide meals to employees, e.g. in the form of a canteen and subsidised meals, in the form of a snack shop, or also in the form of reimbursement or contribution to meal vouchers.

However, the employer also has the right, for various reasons (e.g. hygiene, safety, etc.), to order that certain activities, typically catering, take place only at a place designated by the employer. For example, in a canteen kitchen where food can be heated and consumed. However, some form of this, i.e. at least the heating and consumption of the food itself, must be made available to all workers, including those who work, for example, at night or in shift work.

In a collective agreement, some form of provision of actual meals (i.e. not mere facilitation) may be committed to by the employer and may be subsequently demanded by the employees. Here, the range of persons to whom, for example, discounted meals are provided may also be extended to include, for example, employees who worked there until their retirement or retirement pension for third degree disability or other persons.

Tip: How is the wage correctly determined, what are the legal obligations regarding remuneration, which benefits are beneficial for the employee, what is the employee and the employer entitled to and what can the employer deduct from the wage? We have looked at all of this in our separate article.

What about the ban on snacking at the computer?

But let’s go back to the initial question. We asked Irena what exactly the ban on eating at the computer looks like in the words of her employer. Whether she is actually not allowed to eat in any form, even, for example, in a nearby restaurant. However, this was not the case. The employer was only bothered when employees ate at the computer, as there were a number of problems associated with that. Visitors and clients passed through the large open-plan area and, according to the employer,“munching on a baguette was not presentable”. In addition, the consumption of food in the form of various crumbly buns and mayonnaise salads was associated with the need for a greater degree of cleaning. He therefore designated a room on the first floor with a small kitchen and a microwave oven and ordered food to be consumed only there. But employees preferred at least the relative privacy of the open-space area and rebelled against the order. However, we had to conclude that the employer had complied with its legal obligations and could not be faulted from a legal standpoint.

More often, however, the opposite problem arises in the context of open-space spaces. Some employees are bothered by the aromatic dishes of others, some by the smell of roast, others by the smell of cooked cauliflower. And often the employees themselves demand a separate area for eating. As we have outlined above, it is not possible to obtain such a measure by referring to the normal provisions of employment law. Rather, they concern occupational health and safety issues. It is therefore more a matter of individual agreement between colleagues on considerate behaviour. And if that does not work, then appeal to the employer to take the necessary measures. Solutions may include better ventilation of premises, dividing open space or designating designated areas for catering. But there is no legal entitlement to such action.

Tip: in terms of labour law, it is indeed only forbidden to consume food in the so-called controlled zone. This applies to workplaces where employees are exposed to elevated levels of chemicals and chemical products or dust, handle chemical carcinogens or work with asbestos.

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Author of the article

JUDr. Ondřej Preuss, Ph.D.

Ondřej is the attorney who came up with the idea of providing legal services online. He's been earning his living through legal services for more than 10 years. He especially likes to help clients who may have given up hope in solving their legal issues at work, for example with real estate transfers or copyright licenses.

  • Law, Ph.D, Pf UK in Prague
  • Law, L’université Nancy-II, Nancy
  • Law, Master’s degree (Mgr.), Pf UK in Prague
  • International Territorial Studies (Bc.), FSV UK in Prague

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