Give Them a Break! What You Need to Know About California Rest and Lunch Break Laws

California has a more generous meal break law than that of many other states, allowing workers to take breaks that are both longer and more frequent. It has specific rules on whether employees must be paid for certain types of breaks as well. Both employers and employees should know these basic rules to ensure that everyone is in compliance with applicable California law.

Meal Break Basics

If an employee works for more than five hours per day, employers are required to provide a meal break of at least 30 minutes. This meal period can be waived, however, if both the employee and employer consent and if the total hours worked are no more than six.

If employees work more than 10 hours, employers must provide a second meal break as well. Again, this break can be waived if both parties consent and the entire shift is less than 12 hours.

Employers can forego paying workers for their meal breaks, but employees must be relieved of all of their working duties. Whether someone is indeed relieved of all of their obligations is based on an objective test. For example, if the worker is technically on lunch but would have to serve a customer if one arrived during that period, then that worker must be paid for their meal break. In fact, workers must be paid if they are required to stay on the work site during their meal break, even if they are relieved of all their duties.

Rest Breaks: What You Need to Know

Rest breaks are provided in addition to meal breaks. Rest breaks should have the following attributes:

  • The break should be at least 10 uninterrupted minutes.
  • They should be, to the greatest extent possible, in the middle of each work period.
  • Workers should not perform any work during rest periods.

Employees can choose to waive their rest periods, as long as the employer is not encouraging or forcing them to do so. If an employee works at least 3.5 hours, then they should receive a rest break. If the hours are over six, then they should receive two rest breaks and a meal break. This is the standard used for those who work eight hours as well.

Remedies for Non-Compliance

If an employer does not comply with these laws, an employee may be able to get an extra hour of regular pay for every meal or rest break violation. Some employers can choose to pay this extra hour of wages instead of providing meal breaks. If an employer provides no meal break and no extra pay, then workers can file a wage claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

Employers face a lot of rules and regulations that affect their business. Following each one to a tee is extremely important if you want to avoid fines, penalties, and other legal complications. Let Integrated General Counsel help you navigate these often-complicated issues. Give our team a call today.

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