The California wage and hour laws require non-exempt employees to receive a thirty-minute break from taking lunch or meals. This requirement applies if an employee works for more than five hours a day. If an employee works for more than ten hours a day, they should get a second 30-minute meal break. If a non-exempt employee works more than three and a half hours or more in a day, the law requires the employee to get a ten-minute break for every four hours the employee works. Stop Unpaid Wages is committed to helping employees regain their wages from former or current employers.

In some instances, an employee may agree to waive break if they will not work for more than six hours a day. An employee working more than 10 hours in a day may waive their second meal break in some instances. An employee might waive their second meal break if they did not waive the first meal break. An employee may also forego a meal break if they do not work for more than 12 hours in a day.

Employees who work less than three and a half hours in a day do not require a rest break according to California law. Where rest breaks are applicable, they must count as time worked and payable time. The law requires the rest breaks to be in the middle of an employee's work. For example, if an employee works for more than eight hours in a day, he or she should get a lunch break (30 minutes). The break is in accordance with the California meal and break laws. For an eight-hour work period, an employee should get two rest breaks of 10 minutes each after every four hours of work.

Which Employees Benefit From California Meal and Rest Break Law

Just like the California overtime law, the meal and rest break laws only apply to non-exempt employees. In California, the key group of non-exempt employees consists of white-collar exempt employees. A white-collar exempt employee must meet some requirements. To start with, the employee must spend more than 50% of their work-time performing managerial, intellectual, or creative work. It must also be evident that the employee regularly exercises independent judgment and discretion while performing his/her duties. A white-collar exempt employee must earn at least two times the California minimum wage, especially if the employee is in full employment. 

If a worker meets the legal definition of an independent contractor, the California meal and rest break laws do not apply to them. The meal and rest break laws may not apply to unionized employees in some instances. For instance, if the unionized employees' collective bargaining power or agreement caters for the meal breaks on a different schedule, California laws on meal and rest breaks may not apply. 

Collective bargaining agreement provisions on meal and rest breaks may override California laws for unionized employees who work in specific industries. The employees include persons who work in construction industries, security officers, and employees of electrical or gas companies. Other employees include commercial drivers and persons working in the motion picture industry. 

Working or Being on Call during a Meal or Rest Break

According to the law, an employer may not require an employee to work or to be on call during a meal or rest break. You have a legal right to object if your employer asks you to work as you eat. You also have a right to object if your employer tells you to remain on-call during a rest break. If an employer makes such requests, it is a legal equivalent of denying employees their meal or rest breaks. 

It is important to note that it is not the duty of the employer to ensure that you do not work during your meal or rest break. If an employee voluntarily chooses to work during his/her meal break, the employer is not responsible for the employee's actions. 

On Duty Meal Periods

In some instances, "on duty" meal periods may apply. If these periods apply, an employee may have to work through their meal break. An "on duty" meal break may apply if the nature of your work prevents you from getting relief of duties. For instance, if you work as a security guard and you are the only person on duty, it may be hard for you to get a lunch break.

An employee may also make a written agreement to stay at work or on duty even during meal periods. If an employee makes such an agreement, they can choose to revoke the agreement or decision at any time. 

Your Employer Denies You Meal or Rest Breaks

In California, if an employer denies an employee a meal or rest break, an employee can sue the employer. An employee can sue an employer under the provisions of the Labor Code or labor regulations. Most wage and hour class action lawsuits revolve around employers' failure to offer meal breaks and rest periods to their employees.

If an employer fails to allow an employee to take his/her meal break, he has to compensate/pay the employees. An employee is entitled to one hour's pay for each break an employer denies him or her.  For example, if an employer denies you lunch or rest break for an entire employment year, you deserve adequate compensation. Typically, the compensation for one year of employment is 250 hours. The amount of compensation depends on an employee's regular rate of pay. The hourly compensation matches an employee's hourly rate of pay. 

If an employer fails to provide lunch breaks and rest periods, an employee can earn up to one extra hour per workday for the missed lunch breaks and rest periods. Therefore, for a 12-hour work shift with no break to take lunch or rest, an employee can earn two extra hours of pay. One hour will cover the missed lunch break while the other hour will cover the missed meal break.

For the rest breaks, the law requires employers to provide suitable places for employees to rest. The resting area should be separate from the toilet rooms. 

According to California law, if an employee works a significant fraction of four hours, the employee should get a ten-minute rest period. In this law, a major fraction of four hours is any period that exceeds two hours. For instance, if an employee works for a six and a half-hour period, they are entitled to two rest breaks. The first rest break of ten minutes caters for the first four hours worked. The second rest break caters for the two and a half hours, which form a major fraction of a four-hour work period. A significant fraction is any period that exceeds half of four hours.

If an employee works for more than ten hours, the employee is entitled to a total of three rest breaks of ten minutes each. Therefore, the employee will get a total of 30 minutes of rest during their shift. Every time an employee passes a four-hour milestone, the law requires the employer to grant the employee a ten-minute rest break.

During the rest period, the employee must be free to do what he/she desires. The employer should not interrupt the rest break. Interrupting an employee during a rest period or meal break may lead to penalties. The employer must relieve the employee of all duties and responsibilities during a rest break. In addition, the employer must relinquish all forms of control over how employees choose to spend their meal breaks and rest periods.

Is a Meal Break Paid or Unpaid?

The California law does not require an employer to pay you for your lunch break. The law requires the employer to offer you a lunch break if you are working more than five hours a day. The law does not state that the employer has to pay employees for the meal and rest break period. Although some employers offer a paid meal break to their employees, it is not a legal requirement under the California law. 

An employee may opt not to take a lunch break, especially if the employee does not receive pay during the break time. Instead, the employee may choose to continue with work during the meal or rest time to enable them to go home earlier.  However, if an employee is working more than six hours in a day, they cannot forego a lunch break.

If an employer does not release an employee during lunch break, the employee is on duty according to the law. This scenario may apply if an employee is on lunch break but has to remain at the worksite. Any "on duty" mealtime qualifies as hours worked. The law requires employees to get compensation for such periods. An on-duty meal period is only allowable if the nature of work does not allow an employee to take a break. 

The law prohibits employers from canceling employees' meal breaks even when the workplace is busy. If an employer recalls an employee from a meal break and tells the employee to get back to work, it is equivalent to denying the employee a rest break. Denying an employee the deserved rest break is a violation of the California labor laws. 

Federal Law and Meal and Rest Breaks

Under Federal law, employers must pay employees for all hours worked. This is inclusive of the periods that the employer designates as rest breaks. If an employee has to perform work duties during a meal break, Federal law requires the employee to receive a payment. For example, a person working as a receptionist may have to accept deliveries or pick phone calls during a lunch period. The receptionist must get a payment for the time worked during the meal break. The same case applies to a repair person who may grab take away lunch while driving to a job site. Even if the employer recognizes the said period as the lunch break, as long as an employee is working, he/she must receive compensation. 

Must Employees Take Meals During Meal Breaks?

Although it goes by the name meal break, an employee does not need to use his/her meal break to take meals. Also, the law does not require employers to provide their employees with food during a meal break. An employee may choose to leave the work premises during a meal break. An employee may choose to leave the work premises during a meal break and run his/her personal errands during a meal break. The employee may also choose to remain at the workplace during a meal break. The employer has no right to decide how employees use their meal breaks; the choice belongs entirely to the employees.

When calculating the applicable meal break for an employee, the emphasis is on the actual hours an employee works. Focus is not on the number of hours an employee is scheduled to work. For instance, an employee may be scheduled to work for eight hours. If the employee ends up working for only four hours, the law does not require the employer to offer the employee a meal break. This is because the employee worked for four hours despite the fact that the employee's work schedule was set at eight hours.

If an employee qualifies for a first meal break, the employee must offer the employee a meal break before the fifth hour of work ends. If an employee qualifies for a second meal break, the employer must provide the employee with the meal break before the tenth hour of work ends.

An employer should not get creative on meal and rest breaks policies. For instance, an employer should not put the 10-minute rest break at the beginning or at the end of a lunch break. An employer should also not persuade an employee to skip a meal or rest break by promising to allow the employee to leave early for home. Failure to provide an employee with one or more meal or rest break is an offense that requires an employer to compensate the employee. An employer must always remember that no matter how difficult or how inconveniencing it might be, employees must get their mandatory breaks. 

On-Site Meals

The law requires employers to allow employees to leave the place of work during a meal break if an employee chooses to do so. Similar to the case of on-duty meal breaks, an employee may have to take meals at the place of work. Under such circumstances, the law requires employers to provide employees with a suitable place to take their meals.

For meal breaks that occur in a period between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am, the law requires employers to provide facilities for securing hot meals and drinks. Employers should also give the employees facilities like microwaves to heat snacks and beverages.

For on-site meals, the law requires employers to offer employees an excellent sheltered place where employees can take their meals and drinks.

An employer has three options regarding meal breaks and rest periods. The employer may choose to allow his/her employees to take all the necessary meal breaks and rest periods in accordance with the law. The employer can also waive meal breaks as long as it is legal to do so, and the employees approve. The waiver must be in the form of writing. An employee can revoke the waiver at any time. The employer may also choose to pay a one-hour pay penalty for every meal break or rest period an employee misses.

The employer cannot get a penalty if an employee willingly chooses not to go on a meal break. However, an employer should not pressure or encourage employees to skip meal breaks or rest periods. If an employer encourages or coerces employees to skip meal breaks or rest periods, the employer may face penalties under California law. 

It is important to note that even if an employee chooses to skip a meal break or a rest period, the employer has to pay the employee for the extra work done during the meal break or rest period. However, the employee will not receive the penalty pay he/she would receive if an employer denies him/her lunch break.

Does the California Meal and Rest Break Law Protect New Mothers?

The law requires California employers to provide break time to accommodate female workers with young infants. During this break, the female employees can express breast milk for their infant children. If possible, the employer should plan this break to coincide with the employee's other break periods.

If a lactation period does not coincide with other rest periods, the law does not require employers to pay employees for the lactation break. Employers should provide lactating employees with a private room or a location where the employees can comfortably express milk in private. The area provided must not be a toilet, and the area must be clean. The area should also be close to the employee's workspace.

An employer may fail to provide a lactation break, especially if the break would seriously disrupt the business operations of an employer. However, the consequences of failing to offer employees a lactation break are detrimental. According to the law, for every violation, the employer must pay a civil penalty amounting to $100.

How to Handle Meal and Rest Breaks Violations

If your employer denies you the right to take a meal or rest break, you have three options. You may choose to resolve the dispute informally with your employer. You may also choose to file a lawsuit in a court of law. Also, you may opt to file a wage claim with California's DLSE (Division of Labor Standards Enforcement).

In most cases, employers are not willing to informally resolve disputes that revolve around meal and rest breaks. The DLSE can give citations to your employer, requiring him/her to pay all outstanding penalties to you. The best method of resolving a dispute between an employer and an employee depends on the specific situation of an employee.

If you are currently facing a meal and rest break dispute with your employer, it is advisable to seek the counsel of an attorney. Seeking legal counsel should be the first step before you decide how to recover your well-deserved wages. 

It is important to note that there are some strict deadlines that you have to adhere to when filing a wage claim or a lawsuit. You have to make the lawsuit within three years of your employer's violation of meal and rest breaks.

Does Your Employer Owe You?

If you are wondering whether to file a lawsuit against your employer, you may consider several factors.  The factors can help you determine whether you qualify for additional compensation from your employer. You may have a case against your employer if:

  • You work for an eight-hour shift, and you do not receive two 10-minute rest breaks from the employer
  • Your work for an eight-hour shift and you do not receive a thirty-minute meal break from the employer
  • Your employer tends to interrupt you while you are on your meal break
  • You are often on standby or on-call during your rest breaks or your meal breaks
  • Your employer forces you or encourages you to forego a legally required meal break or rest break
  • During your 30-minute meal break, your employer prohibits you from leaving the workstation
  • During your meal break, you eat while performing work duties as well
  • You often work for more than ten hours per day, and your employer does not provide you with two 30-minute meal breaks.

Contact an Los Angeles Employment Attorney Near Me

If you feel that your former or current employer has violated the California Meal and Rest Break Law, you may consider contacting an employment attorney. The attorney will help you determine if your employer owes you compensation payments. At Stop Unpaid Wages, we protect California employees from exploitation by employers. We ensure that employees receive their deserved wages from employers. Contact us at 424-781-8411 and speak to one of our attorneys today.