There are a lot of reasons that you may decide not to leave the office for a lunch break. And, on the other side, there are a lot of reasons an employer may ask you to take part in a work activity during lunch.

Understanding what counts as a “break” can seem like a minor issue, but over a period, it can add up to something more complex for you and your employer.

Here’s what you’ll want to know about what counts as a break.

Employees need breaks

It’s no longer news that you are entitled to breaks in your work day. For some, it’s a chance to recharge before the second half of the day. For others, it can be a time they need to conduct personal business. Regardless of what you choose to do on your break, you should still get time to be “off duty.”

Working lunches are work

When it comes to lunch breaks, the important concept is that the break is about more than the meal. The idea is that it is a time for you to be able to take the time to break from work, not necessarily that you have something to eat.

That being the case, if you’re in a situation where your employer schedules work meetings during the lunch hour, you are still entitled to a time off the clock. This is also true even if your employer provides lunch for the meeting. If your employer is asking you to work during the meeting, it is work whether there is food or not.

Optional social outings

There is a difference, however, if the gathering is social in nature. If a few people from the office plan to get together for lunch, that is still a lunch break. While it is possible that you and your co-workers may discuss work while you are out, if the gathering is optional and work is not the reason for the meeting, it is still time “away” from work.