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  • Betty Girardeau

An Eight Hour WorkDay


The eight hour workday was established during the Industrial Revolution to cut down on the on the number of hours of manual labor that workers were forced to endure on the factory floor. Like our ancestors, for full-time jobs we're expected to put in eight-hour days, in blocks of continuous time with few or no breaks. I have been reminded of this a lot lately as I have been back in the workforce. Unlike most workers, as a Census enumerator I can select the hours and number of hours that I am available to work. But it is mandatory that after five hours I have to take a thirty minute break. Because the majority of my work takes me out of the house and into my car as my workspace, this mandatory break has been a bit tricky to work in. Covid-19 has made that more difficult, too. Whereas I might have considered taking a break by going to a fast food place and getting a cold drink and going to the bathroom, I am not inclined to do that these days in a random fast food restaurant. Part of my work time is the time that it takes me to drive from home to a particular assignment, or from the assignment back home. The first day I was nearly twenty minutes from home when my mandatory break time was nearing. I hated the thought of driving back and forth to home, which would have totaled about forty minutes just to have a thirty minute break. So I parked my car in a church parking lot for thirty minutes and read emails. For the next several days I was working closer to home and it was easy to come back there for my break. Now I have planned my road work to take up five hours, and finish up my workday with any phone calls that I need to make after taking a break. It's a plan that seems to be working reasonably well. But as I was finishing up my work yesterday, I got to thinking about all the years in the past that I worked, most of which were part-time jobs until I created my own business. Then I typically put in days much longer than eight hours. So this is the first time I have ever had a job where I absolutely had to not work for a specific period of time during a workday of five or more hours. What is really interesting about this is that OSHA has no regulations or standards that require an employer to provide employees with rest breaks or meal breaks. But when I was hired by the Department of Commerce they made a big deal about the fact that I absolutely could not work beyond five hours without taking a break at that point, and that I had to log any work time beyond five hours to prove that I had taken at least a thirty minute break. While I have sometimes resented having to take a break at the five hour point, I have to admit that usually my brain is pretty fried by that time and I am ready to do so. And, even if I am available to work an eight hour day, I am not required to. Today I have eight cases assigned, most of which I will need to do by phone. Honestly, I would rather be out on the road than behind a desk on the phone, though the phone calls take much less time. Not only is my current job different from any other work I have had in my life, but planning my work day is totally different as well.

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