California Labor laws state that employees who work for more than five hours have a right to breaks. However, the break conditions for each employee may be different, depending on the agreement you have with your employer. At Stop Unpaid Wages, we have a team of competent attorneys who will ensure that your employer does not violate your meal and rest breaks rights. The following article explains the concept of meal and rest breaks for salaried and exempt workers.

What is a Meal Break?

According to the laws of California, a meal break refers to an unpaid and uninterrupted period of at least thirty minutes that allows employees to spend time on personal businesses. The employer should allow their employees this free time without expecting them to perform any duties.

However, meal breaks do not necessarily mean that the employee has to spend the free time that they are entitled to eating. They have a right to carry out personal errands during the period so long as they ensure that they get back to their duties on time.

It is also of essence to remember that the timing and number of breaks that the employee is entitled to will differ. The timing of the meal breaks depends on the hours that the employee works and the agreements the person signed during employment.

An employer upholds the law of the meal break when he meets the following specifications:

  • They relieve the employee of all their duties during meal periods
  • Permits the employee to have a meal break of at least 30 minutes uninterrupted
  • They relinquish control of all the activities that the employee performs

What is a Rest Break?

The laws of California demand that it is the right of employees to have at least ten minutes rest for every four hours that they work continuously. The law, therefore, obligates the employer to provide this break so long as the employee meets these specified hours.

During this break, the employer has to relieve the employee of all the duties that they perform. Additionally, the employer must provide suitable rest facilities where the employee can go to relax. The resting facilities are independent of the toilet facilities. Therefore, this means that toilet facilities do not count as rest facilities.

However, it is of the essence for workers to know that unlike meal breaks, rest breaks are payable. Paid breaks mean that the ten minutes breaks allowed to the employees will still count as part of the working hours.

Though the state provides for this break in the labor laws, the employee does not have an obligation to follow it. The code is only strict on employers; hence, they need to uphold it. Besides, an employer does not have the right to force an employee to take a break if they choose to skip it.

If your employer denies you the right to this break, you can consult our firm for legal advice on the action to take.

Understanding 'Salaried Workers'

According to California laws, salaried workers fall under two groups, i.e., exempt and non-exempt workers. To understand the two, we will discuss the two groups independently.

Exempt Workers

An exempt worker is an employee who is not covered by most California hour and wage laws. To qualify as an exempt worker, you must meet the following specifications;

  • Salary Requirement

An exempt employee should receive pay on a salary basis rather than an hourly wage. The state demands that the salary be at least twice the minimum wage for full-time employment.

Full-time employment sums up to 40 working hours in a week. The amount received by full-time employees per hour may vary according to state and an employer's policies, subject to an increase every year. The current wage set in 2019 ranges between eleven and twelve dollars per hour. Therefore, the exempt workers' payment must be at least two times the wage of full-time employment.

As of 2019, the salary of exempt employees for an organization with more than twenty-six workers falls at around $49,920. Additionally, the current wage for exempt employees working for an organization that has less than 25 employees is $45,760.

It is vital to note that the salary may be different for various cities and counties. The difference is because exempt wages are calculated according to minimum wages, which are different for most cities.

  • White-Collar Duties Requirement

An exempt worker should also meet this requirement. To qualify as an exempt worker, you must perform administrative, executive, or professional duties. People refer to the responsibilities as white-collar jobs.

The only way of determining whether the employee is a white-collar employee is to evaluate and establish their duties. In this context, the focus will be on the primary responsibilities of an employee. The primary responsibilities of employees refer to the activities that the employee performs in the workplace for more than half of their working hours.

While Administrative workers are involved in office and non-manual work that relates to management, the executive worker's primary duty is to manage a business. Also, only professionals who are licensed, educated, or take part in creativity as professions qualify as exempt workers.

  • Discretion and Independent Judgment

For you to qualify as an exempt worker, the state requires you to exercise independent judgment and discretion while performing your duties and responsibilities regularly.

An employee exercises this requirement when they implement vital decisions after considering the course of action to take. Similarly, the worker's judgment is independent when they are free from immediate or direct supervision. Therefore, this means that the worker is allowed to make their own work-related decisions without considering how the supervisors will take it.

If the employee meets all the above requirements, they qualify as an exempt worker. The employee will be exempted from overtime, minimum wage, and rest break laws. However, exemptions are not always the same. Therefore, this means that the exempt employees of different organizations may have various exceptions depending on the management. The agreement signed during employment also determines the exemptions.

Non-exempt Employees

Non-exempt employees are those employees whose duties and responsibilities follow the laws and wages set by California. To qualify as a non-exempt employee, you have to meet the following;

  • Salary Requirement

Non-exempt employees are entitled to a salary that is not less than $7.25 per hour. The state minimum of California is $12 per hour for organizations with more than 26 employees and 11 dollars per hour for businesses that have 25 or fewer workers. The specific wage rates vary according to different cities and counties, as explained earlier. For Los Angeles, the wages range at $ 13.25 for those with employees that are more than twenty-six and $12 for those workers that are less than twenty-five.

  • Overtime-Right Requirement

The state overtime law requires employers to pay non-exempt workers one and a half times or twice their regular hourly rate for working overtime.

The workers receive one and a half times the hourly wage under these circumstances:

  • The excess hours that employee works on in a single day. The standard hours are eight
  • All the excess hours of forty hours that employee worked on in a single week
  • The first 8 hours worked for the seventh consecutive workday in the workweek.

California requires an employer to pay overtime that is twice the hourly rate for;

  • All excess hours worked on beyond the 12 hours in a single workday
  • The excess hours worked on the seventh consecutive workday in the workweek. The excess hours are calculated by deducting 8 hours from the hours worked

Who is Entitled to a Meal Break?

Non-exempt employees are all entitled to a thirty minutes break if they work for more than five hours continuously. Additionally, the employer must provide a second meal break if the employee works for a period that exceeds ten hours consistently.

During this meal break, the employee should be free to leave the work premises. It is of the essence to know that the employer should pay the employee when the employer requires that the employee be present on the job or site during lunch hour.

Generally, an employee is entitled to an extra hour of pay at the expense of the employer. Therefore, this means that the employer will pay the employee an extra hour that must be in line with an employee's regular hourly rate.

The same law and conditions will apply for exempt employees. Exempt employees also have a right to access meal breaks at all times. The breaks will also follow the requirements discussed in the non-exempt employees.

However, employees need to know that the employer does not have an obligation to force you to take this break. If your employer allows you to take a break and you choose not to, then the action is not a violation of California labor laws. This also applies to those people who are entitled to two meal breaks but decide to take one.

Who is Entitled to a Rest Break?

Non-exempt employees are entitled to rest breaks every four hours that they work continuously. These breaks are payable and are considered as part of the regular working hours.

However, an employee is not entitled to a rest break if they work for a period not exceeding three and a half workers in a workday. Therefore, this means that only those who work beyond four hours are eligible to take this break.

When employers deny their workers this right, they must pay them an extra hour on top of their regular working hours. The employer will pay the worker the extra hour according to their daily hourly rates.

For those that work beyond eight hours, they have the right to a second break after the second four-hour shift ends. Therefore, this grants them another ten minutes on top of their first rest break period.

Lactation breaks sometimes fall under this category. Employers must provide reasonable breaks to allow lactating mothers to breast-feed their children. The breaks are payable if they take place during the ordinary working hours of the employee.

Under no circumstances does an exempt employee qualify for a rest break. The term 'exempt' will exempt them from accessing this right. This means that the employer will not compensate the employee for a missed rest break.

At Stop Unpaid Wages, we specialize in giving legal advice and representation to employees who are seeking compensation for missed meal and rest breaks.

How to File for a Claim

The state allows you to enforce your rights to meal and break right by allowing you to file for a complaint that guarantees your compensation. This claim is commonly referred to as a wage claim. A wage claim refers to a type of complaint that workers file against their employers to recover any money that the employer owes them.

To file for a claim, you will have to decide on the best legal action to take. Since there are several options available to you, you will have to weigh your options to know which legal action best applies to your case. The legal options available to workers seeking wage claim for missed meal or break periods are;

  • Filing for Civil Suits in Court

The employee has a right to sue the employer in a court of law. The goal of the suit is to receive compensation for the breaks the employer denied the worker.

Lawsuits take place in the superior court and are different from the standard wage claims filed with federal agencies or the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE).

However, like the wage claims, the suits involve conferences and hearings. During the hearings, the employee and the employer are granted the opportunity to present arguments and pieces of evidence. These two will form the basis of the case.

If your case involves a significant sum of money, then this approach is the best. The lawsuit allows you to present your case to the court exhaustively. Besides, this approach is also best when you are dealing with a situation that is too complex and has several issues involved. The lawsuit also allows you to recover attorney costs. However, this entirely depends on the circumstances surrounding your case.

It is vital to know that lawsuits are expensive. Similarly, the process is also complicated and may consume a lot of time. Therefore, attorneys discourage clients from taking on suits, as they are not practical for small claims.

  • Federal Wage Claims

The Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) controls all the workplace rules that apply in the US. It sets the minimum standards that employers have to follow, e.g., minimum wage and meal break requirements.

The FLSA guidelines provide guidelines for pursuing claims, just like the California Labor Code. The only distinction is that the state's labor code provides broader protections for its employees compared to the FLSA. However, this does not apply to all labor issues.

An employee should compare the two laws before making a decision. In most cases, the Labor Code of the state will provide better benefits compared to federal law. When this happens, it is more practical to choose the state laws as it guarantees you better benefits.

  • DLSE Wage Claim

In addition to the Labor Code and Federal laws, the state Administrative agency DLSE also protects employees. The law provides guidelines on how different labor-related issues are handled.

DLSE has a mandate to investigate and hold hearings related to an employee's complaint. The agency will require both the worker and employer to present both sides of their arguments to help them come up with a reasonable settlement.

Most attorneys' advice clients to choose this legal option because;

  • It is cheaper and faster compared to a lawsuit
  • It is not too risky
  • The agency can issue subpoenas which will compel witnesses to be present for hearings
  • The agency has the ability to force employers to produce documents
  • DLSE requires the employer to pay for penalties
  • Employees have the right to appoint lawyers to represent them in court

The only demerit of this legal action is that the worker will not receive compensation for incurred attorney fees.

Generally, the best legal action depends on the circumstances surrounding your claim. At Stop Unpaid Wages, we have lawyers who will help you understand all the legal steps you can take to ensure compensation.

Wage Claim Process

The steps involved below summarize the wage claim process;

  • Deciding Whether the Wage Claim is the Best Process

You require to hire an attorney to help you maneuver around this stage. Employment attorneys are familiar with all the legal options and will, in most cases, advise you to choose the wage claim legal option. Lawyers prefer this option because the merits outweigh the demerits.

  • Preparing the Claim

This will require you to file the 'initial Report or claim' document with the DLSE. The form is online and is hence accessible to all persons.

The form that you need to file for this claim is the DLSE form 1. The agency also clearly provides instructions in all languages on how to complete the form.

During the filing of this claim, your attorney has to indicate all your claims. This is because the agency will not allow new claims after this stage.

  • Gathering Of Supporting Documents

It is a requirement that all documents related to the claim be filed. The DLSE form 55 allows you to list the number of missed meal and rest breaks in the appropriate columns.

The documents that support this claim are the time records that the employee recorded to document the meal and rest periods worked without receiving payment.

At this stage, only copies of the documents are required.

  • File the Case with the DLSE Office

You will have to submit your claim physically to the DLSE office that is in your work area. This stage is not a formal complaint, but it intends to evaluate the merit of the claim. Once submitted, your claim is assigned to the Labor Commission.

  • Attending the Settlement Conference

A settlement conference allows both parties to discuss whether they want to settle. Both parties will present their evidence to come up with an appropriate settlement. However, if an employee misses the conference, the agency will dismiss the claim. The documents presented past this stage should be original copies.

  • Notice of Hearing

If the parties do not agree on the settlement, the DLSE will prepare a formal complaint against the employer. The agency then schedules for a hearing and sends the subpoenas to the involved parties. In this hearing, the parties are allowed to call for witnesses to support their claim.

Additionally, both parties will present all the evidence.

  • Attending the Berman Hearing

A Berman hearing is almost similar to a trial and takes place within ninety days after the agency decides that a hearing is essential. It involves the presentation of evidence and arguments but is less formal compared to a trial. Additionally, both parties have a right to legal counsel.

The agency makes a decision based on the evidence presented. If the decision is in favor of the employee, the employer has to pay the wages owed to the employee.

  • Appealing the Order

Appealing takes place if the outcome dissatisfies either party. The interested appeal party has to file an appeal within ten days of the ruling and in the superior court. If the employer appeals, then they will have to pay for the attorney costs of the employee.

Find an Los Angeles Employment Attorney Near Me

If you are interested in hiring an employment attorney for missed meal and rest breaks in Los Angeles, then look no further. At Stop Unpaid Wages, We have an excellent team of attorneys who will take you through the wage claim process and will represent you as well. You can call us at 424-781-8411 to book an appointment.