Give Me a Break
To what meal and rest breaks am I entitled?
Before considering the daily schedule for taking meal and rest breaks, a few questions can determine whether you are entitled to them under California law:
- Are you (or were you, during the time period in question) employed in California? Federal law does not address meal or rest breaks.
- Were you paid on an hourly basis, or might you have been improperly classified as an overtime-exempt employee?
- Did the denial of meal or rest periods occur within the past four years? In California, these claims can be brought up to four years after they arise.
- If questioning a meal period practice, did you agree, in writing, to waive your meal period? A waiver may not be enforceable.
- If you agreed, in writing, to waive your meal period, did that waiver allow you to revoke it at your discretion?
- What were your particular job duties during the time period in question?
What is the meal break law in California?
An employer may not employ an hourly worker for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with a meal period of at least 30 minutes. As a practical matter, this means non-exempt workers should try to take meal periods as close to the middle of the shift (assuming an eight hour workday) as possible. In some situations, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee, but many waivers are unenforceable. If you are released to take a meal break, that’s your time to do whatever you want, and the employer cannot require you stay on site during it.
Finally, if you are entitled to meal periods and you work more than 10 hours in a day, the employer must usually provide you with a second meal period of at least 30 minutes. Limited exceptions may apply to this.
Make sense? That’s okay. Call us. We’ll explain it.
What is the rest break law in California?
Most employees are permitted to take rest breaks, meaning that they are entitled to a paid and uninterrupted break of 10 minutes every four hours (or so-called “major fraction thereof”). Also, the employer can require you stay on sire during that break.
Although you may be entitled to a rest break, you can work through that break (if you like) but we don’t recommend it. This is your time to do no work at all and, therefore, you are not really “on break” if you are also “on call” or required to watch over the work of others or the facility.
These summaries are merely overviews of the meal and rest break laws in California. For details regarding your entitlement to breaks, contact us.
What happens if my employer refuses to let me take breaks?
You may be entitled to receive one extra hour of pay for every day your employer violates the meal or rest break laws. You may be entitled to two hours of pay if your employer violates both (i.e., the meal break law AND the rest break law) on any given day.
The bottom line: If your employer is violating these rules on a regular basis, you may be entitled to a surprising amount of back pay, penalties, and interest. It’s probably worth your while to find out just how much.
This information is for illustrative and educational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice, the establishment of an attorney-client relationship, or as indicative of a particular outcome regarding any legal issue you might have.