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Can a company legally lock employees in the building during an unpaid lunch break?
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Can a company legally lock employees in the building during an unpaid lunch break?

The past two nights we've had to come into work at midnight (I work at Target). They force us to take a lunch before 6 hours of being there. So at 5:45 they told us to clock out. I live right down the street, so I asked if they could unlock the door to let me go home for lunch and they told me no. The food place was closed so my manager said they have hot dogs in the break room. Nasty hot dogs. I don't eat meat, which the managers know, but that's besides the point. I didn't bring a lunch because I didn't know they would lock us in the building. We usually come in at 4 a.m., and they don't let the smokers out during the break we're forced to take at 6 a.m., now I understand why they're so mad. We weren't even paid for our lunch break. How can they keep us locked inside???? Is this legal?

They say they keep us locked in for our own safety because of Sept 11. We're in Texas.

Wasn't sure what category to put this in.
Additional Details
All the front doors and the employee entrance are locked, can't go in or out. We do have fire exits throughout the store in case of emergency.


2007-11-26 01:06:11 +0000
They shouldn't be locking you in. They may be doing this due to some sort of abuse by employees but it is unwise of them to attempt to lock you in.

A lunch they've "forced" you to take after being there 6 hours is probably required by law.

During a paid break they can arguably require you to utilize a break room. It would be worth their while to allow the smokers to have a cigarette though.

During an unpaid break you should be free to go wherever you want.

Yes their approach sounds a little strong, but I imagine that something caused this-- people not returning from breaks in a timely manner perhaps, or.. just not returning..? I'd ride it out and see if it gets better, but also be on the lookout for a better job.

2007-11-26 01:02:35 +0000
Talk to HR....something seems a little off with this.

2007-11-26 01:30:13 +0000
Obviously, fire exits are only locked from the outside. As long as they open from the inside, no laws are broken. To allow employees to wander in and out on break, while the building is actually closed, would entail more security personnel. Expecting the company to hire security just so smokers can go out, or people can go home, is ludicrous, Bring a lunch.

False imprisonment? Lawsuits? Ridiculous!

If somebody were mugged going outside in the middle of the night, (and we have seen people murdered, not just mugged, body thrown in a dumpster), Target would be held accountable for not ensuring the safety of employees late at night.

2007-11-26 00:57:57 +0000
Call the HR contact for your company and explain what happened.

2007-11-26 01:10:54 +0000
They can do this as a stipulation of your employment. Many employers enforce this kind of rule. You are technically not being held against your will because you can leave at any time - even though that means that you will be fired.

This kind of thing is why unions are so important. If you are union, you can organize with other people and fight this kind of thing. If you are not union, you either play by the rules of your company or you don't have a job.

I'm really sorry they are treating you like this. It is morally wrong in my opinion, even though it is legal. Your recourse is to contact your HR person. At least he or she will look into it and make sure that the company is following company policy. Good luck.

2007-11-26 00:58:20 +0000
It's not legal to lock anyone into any place against their will. If you aren't on the clock you have the right to leave at any time. If you are required to be on duty you must be on the clock and paid.

2007-11-26 00:57:28 +0000
No...if you aren't free to go, you are either

1) On the clock, or
2) Being held against your will, which is false imprisonment.

Talk to an attorney. Don't say anything to your manager yet, but you might have a nice lawsuit settlement coming if they keep doing this.

2007-11-26 00:57:45 +0000
Yes they can my mom works at circle k at night and if she goes out after dark she gets fired.

2007-11-26 01:27:08 +0000
I used to be an assistant store manager with Target, and I worked the 4am truck unload. We did allow our team members to go out and smoke a cigarette during their breaks - but they had to wait for me to come up and open the door to get back in. They would take their "lunch" at 8 am when the store opened, so that they could get something to eat, or leave the building without issue.

We did this even after 9/11. The doors must always remain locked outside of normal store hours. This is for safety sake as well as security. But we used the cart door, which locks automatically when someone goes out it, as the door that people would come in and go out of. We would place a walkie talkie out in the foyer so that they could contact a lead to get let back in when they were done smoking.

Is it legal? Yeah, unfortunately it is. They can do what it takes to keep the property and the employees safe. Just so long as people can get out of the building in case of a fire (which you can - the fire exits and even the main exit), it isn't against the law.

What I would tell you to do is ask if you can wait until store opening to take your "lunch", or bring your lunch with you so that you are assured a meal without violating any sort of security. But speak to your AP - they will be able to assist you with any questions. Or you can speak to your HR lead to voice your grievance, and maybe find out if there is some sort of compromise for you.

2007-11-26 00:58:27 +0000
No, they can't legally keep you on the premesis and not pay you. Contact your state labor department.

2007-11-26 01:00:10 +0000
Hell no! It is your time they can not do that. They are concerned that if anything happens to you they are liable. Refuse to be locked in. That is disgraceful!!!

2007-11-26 01:04:13 +0000
Target does this everywhere, but the actual law depends on your state. Texas has no laws on such things unfortunately:
( Follow this link, halfway down the page is the info on breaks)

Target should also not tell you that it is because of Sept.11, they know that's not the reason... The reason is that they want to keep the store secure overnight. They've been doing that since before Sept. 11.

2007-11-26 00:58:45 +0000
I don't know if it's legal or not, but fire codes say you have to be able to get of the building if there is a fire. You need to contact someone from the fire department.

2007-11-26 01:05:31 +0000
Not sure what the heck 9/11 has to do with it. You are being fed a load of crap. Locking doors from the inside poses a fire hazard, which is the bigger issue here. If you are not of your own free will during the meal break, you should be paid (I couldn't find this issue specifically addressed on the Texas Workforce Commission website). You should call Target corporate, this is certainly not a corporate policy.

2007-11-26 01:12:22 +0000
You're not on th clock, they can't tell you what to do. No matter how backward Texas is, you have a real live lawsuit (oh yeah, it IS false imprisonment). Besides, they can't "lock you in the building" even when you're working (federal law is very specific about this and where emergency exits need to be).
If you can, go straight to a lawyer, not only for yourself, but for everybody else.

2007-11-26 00:59:26 +0000
Go to your labor dept web page, this doesn't sound right...to be locked in. They can have the doors locked so no one can enter, but you can exit.

Me no like that at all

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