California law requires that employers give certain employees mandatory breaks for meals. Under California Labor Code Section 512, most employees must be provided with no less than a 30-minute meal period if they work more than five hours in a day. If an employee works more than ten hours in a day, then a second 30-minute meal period must be allowed.
In order to qualify as a “meal break,” an employee must be relieved of all duties, and must be free to leave the premises. In other words, an employer can’t just say that a meal break is available, they have to actually relieve the employee of their duties and give them a reasonable opportunity to take the 30 minutes to enjoy a meal. Therefore, things such as penalizing employees for taking a lunch or strongly discouraging it are not permitted.
If an employee is not allowed to take their 30-minute break, they must be compensated for one hour at their regular rate of pay. If this is a regular occurrence, then an employee can collect back pay for every missed meal break. Generally speaking, there is a three-year statute of limitations on recovering for missed meal breaks.
It is possible for an employer and an employee to agree to waive the required meal breaks. However, it must be clear that this waiver was mutually agreed to by both parties. Oftentimes, employers will try to get new employees to sign a form saying they agree to waive all meal breaks, since new employees will often sign whatever is asked of them in order to get a new job.
If you have been denied meal breaks and have not been compensated, an attorney can help you determine if you may have a valid claim, and, if so, against whom. Please contact the Hariri Law Group at 619-363-2889 for a free consultation. We look forward to speaking with you regarding your case. *Disclaimer: Every case is fact specific. In order to properly assess your case please contact one of our experienced attorneys.