If you’re an employee in the state of California, you need to know the regulatory protections regarding employee breaks. Employer responsibility in this area is two-fold, and there are penalties for non-compliance that as an employee you should be aware of. Employers must ensure that all non-exempt employees are aware of the legal requirements in the State of California concerning meal and rest breaks. Once your employer has communicated these laws to you, they must then provide you with breaks in compliance with existing California law.
In this article, we’ll look at California’s meal and rest break requirements, as well as the penalties your employer is subject to when found in violation of your rights. The majority of the meal and rest break regulations established in the State of California are relatively straightforward. It is important to note that your employer is not obligated to police you in terms of whether or not you have taken the allocated breaks.
They general rules are as follows:
An employee must not work for longer than five hours without being provided with an unpaid meal break of 30 minutes. (California Labor Code §512) During this time, the employee should be considered off duty, and it is not expected that they should participate in any work-related activities.(Augustus v. ABM Security Service, Inc.(2016) 2 Cal. 5th 257) This break must be provided before the end of the employee’s fifth hour of work.
For the break to be considered unpaid, employers must:
- Allow the employee to fully abstain from any work-related duties
- Allow the employee dominion over their activities for the allotted period
- Make a reasonable attempt to provide an uninterrupted period of at least thirty minutes; and
- Refrain from making any attempts to discourage the employee from taking breaks
- The type of work does not allow for the employee to completely disengage from all duties
- The break is agreed to mutually, by signed consent
- The break is paid
- The employee is given the option to halt the practice at any point- this is not applicable under Wage Order 14 (Agricultural Occupations)
Should the employer engage in any behavior that contradicts any of the above guidelines, or should they fail to provide a full thirty-minute break, the employee has not received the required unpaid meal break and must be both compensated for their time and the employer is likely subject to the penalties discussed below.(California Labor Code §226.7[b]) Although there are limited circumstances when the meal break can be waived or on-call, certain aspects of the issues can get quite complex and will be the subject of another article in the near future. If you have any questions about waivers or on-call agreements, feel free to contact the Perrin Law Group today for a free consultation.
Second Meal Break
All employers are obligated to provide a second meal break in the case where the employee is working a shift of ten hours or more. This meal break must be thirty minutes in length, must meet all the criteria established for the first meal break, and must be allowed before the end of the employee’s tenth hour of work.
On-Duty Meal Breaks
On-duty meal breaks can be provided under special and very limited circumstances only- this type of break should only be considered an option in cases where:
Any non-exempt employee must be allowed rest breaks if their workday totals more than 3.5 hours. Rest breaks are a mandatory requirement, and the employee must be allowed ten minutes for every 4 hours worked, or for any period considered a ‘major fraction’ of that period. The rest period must occur as close to the middle of the shift as possible. As with meal breaks, employers are obligated to relinquish control over the employee during the entirety of the break period and should not do anything to dissuade you from taking the allotted break.
Penalties for Violating Meal and Rest Breaks
There are significant consequences for employers who fail to adhere to a meal and rest break schedule in compliance with existing California law. Failure to do so will result in penalties consisting of one hour of additional pay per violation. If an employer “fails to provide an employee a meal period,” the employer “shall pay” the employee one hour of pay for each work day that the meal period is not provided (Labor Code Section 226.7, Wage Order Section 11).In the case where the employee has missed both meal and rest breaks during the same day, an employee is entitled to a maximum of two hours of meal and rest break premiums per day even though there may have been more than two violations. An employee may additionally recover attorneys’ fees in prosecuting a civil action to recover the meal and rest break violations.
If you or someone you know have been the victim of any type of wage theft or your employer does not provide meal or rest breaks, contact the Perrin Law Group today as our firm is dedicated to aggressively protecting and preserving the rights of all employees.