What are the Laws on Meal Breaks in California?
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.
If you work a shift of 5 hours, you are entitled to an uninterrupted break of 30 minutes.
If you work over 10 hours in one day, you are entitled to a second meal break.
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.
What are the Penalties for Missed Meal Breaks?
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 (per day). 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.
My Employer Made Me Sign a Meal Break Waiver - Is That Legal?
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. Always be aware of any such waivers that your employer asks you to sign.
What Is the Law on Missed Rest Breaks in California?
California law requires that employers give employees paid rest breaks under certain circumstances. Under California Labor Code Section 226.7 and an accompanying Industrial Wage Order, employees that work more than 3.5 hours in a day are allowed a 10-minute rest break. Simplified, the law states that for every four hours of work, an employee must be allowed a 10-minute break.
Similar to meal breaks, during a rest break, an employee must be relieved of their duties and allowed a proper break. Employers can require employees to remain on the premises during their breaks.
An employee can choose not to take their break, however, if they are denied breaks by their employer, the employee must be compensated for one hour at their regular pay rate.
The law is currently a little vague on certain issues, such as whether employers are permitted to offer one 20-minute break for an eight-hour shift, instead of two 10-minute breaks. Some courts have held that this is allowed only if there is adequate justification for it, and it does not unduly harm the employee. There is also an unsettled issue as to whether employees who are on-call are truly on a break if they must remain on-call during that time.
What Are the Penalties in California for Missed Rest Breaks?
Similar to when your employer denies you a proper meal break, you are entitled to one hour of wages per missed break (per day).