So many workers eat lunch at their own desks that the lunch hour has become a distant memory at some companies. However, some employers forbid their employees from eating anything at work, some encourage them to achieve or maintain a healthy weight and some try to ban junk food while allowing other foods.
Companies that ban food completely in the workplace usually cite OSHA safety regulations as the reason. There is no OSHA regulation forbidding employees from eating lunch or having a cup of coffee at their desks, but OSHA does require employers to forbid food or drink near any potentially hazardous materials. If you work around dangerous chemicals or biological hazards, you can't eat a sandwich in the same area as the potential hazard. If your employer tells you not to eat something in a hazardous area, she is not only within her rights, but is legally required to do so.
Companies that offer health insurance benefits sometimes have corporate wellness programs to lower employee medical costs and save money for the company. The Affordable Care Act forbids discrimination based on an employee's medical condition, but it does allow employers to offer extra discounts to employees who meet certain conditions such as lowering their weight, their blood pressure or their percentage of body fat. Since failure to meet these targets can result in paying higher premiums, this practice effectively allows employers to pressure you to lose weight. Wellness programs usually concentrate on measurable targets such as BMI, not on what the employee happens to have for lunch on any given day. However, a supervisor might warn an employee eating junk food that failure to meet the wellness targets will result in higher premiums.
Junk Food Bans
In an attempt to lower medical costs, some companies ban smokers from working for them at all, even if they only smoke when off-duty. A smaller number of companies have instituted a similar ban on eating junk food. Although organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union have objected to bans of this type as a form of discrimination, many states have no laws specifically forbidding them. Some states forbid companies from banning any legal activities outside the workplace.
If your manager is telling you not to eat something, there is not much you can do about it from the legal perspective. Although many people would agree that it is invasive and inappropriate for an employer to interfere with your personal eating choices, that doesn't mean it's illegal for the employer to do so. If you believe the employer is treating you differently from other employees because of race, religion, sex or national origin you can file a complaint. Otherwise, you might have to try to work it out with your employer.
Scott Thompson has been writing professionally since 1990, beginning with the "Pequawket Valley News." He is the author of nine published books on topics such as history, martial arts, poetry and fantasy fiction. His work has also appeared in "Talebones" magazine and the "Strange Pleasures" anthology.