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Those Long Lunches You're Taking Can Get You Fired

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Although everyone needs the occasional midday break for running errands or popping out to a doctor's appointment, vanishing from the office regularly for two or three hours at a time can mean getting passed over for promotion, ignored for special projects or fired -- sometimes without warning. Our experts weigh in on the hefty consequences of lunchtime disappearing acts and the best ways to handle those times when you need to step away without taking a vacation day.

Sometimes I need to get out of the office for an extended break. How do I know when I'm crossing the line?

"Occasional long lunches are very acceptable. Everyone has something they need to take care of during the day. But when you disappear for two hours and come in loaded down with shopping bags or sporting a fresh pedicure, then it's a problem," says Elaine Varelas, managing partner at career management consultancy Keystone Partners.

It really comes down to understanding your company's workday philosophy, says Amanda Augustine, job search expert for job matching site TheLadders.

"A young startup will likely want you spending as little time out of the office as necessary, since teams are lean and workloads are heavy," Augustine says. "A more established organization may be more open to longer breaks, especially if your work is less time sensitive."

Additionally, some companies or departments value "face time" more than others, which affects their view of extended lunch breaks, Augustine says.

"If you're new to a company, make friends with someone who's been with the organization for a while and can clue you into the unwritten codes of conduct," she says. "Don't be afraid to bring this question up to your manager when you're discussing his or her expectations of you on the job. There's nothing wrong with finding out what's considered an acceptable lunch break and what isn't."

If I have to go out, should I sneak out of the office or announce that I'm leaving?

It's always best to be upfront and honest about where you're going and when you'll be back, Varelas says.

"Even if you think your bosses aren't watching, they are. Every time you disappear without warning, there's a chance someone will start looking for you. If they can't find you, they can't depend on you, and that's dangerous," she says.