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California Meal and Rest Break Law

California is among the states that allow various employees to enjoy a meal and rest breaks during their work shifts. The number of breaks you get will depend on the length of your shift. At Orange County Workers Compensation Attorney, we help workers from Orange County, understand their rights to these breaks. Discussed below is everything you need to know about California's meal and break laws.


What a Meal and Rest Break Mean

A break refers to the period during a work shift in which a worker has the permission or authorization to take some time off their job. Breaks differ in terms of length and a company's policies. A meal break can allow you (an employee) to take food or drinks at a convenient time during your workday. On the other hand, a rest break gives you some time off work for you to freshen up or rest a bit.

Rest breaks are meant to allow employees to use the restroom or take some time off work for less than ten minutes. It is the expectation of many employers that their employees use the workplace facilities during their rest periods. Employers are at risk of legal suits for denying their workers the right to use these facilities as required. Concerns regarding workers' health and workplace sanitation will also arise employers deny their workers this right.


California's Meal and Break Laws

Meal and rest breaks are legally mandated in the state of California. The laws on meal and rest breaks impose severe penalties for employers who fail to allow their employees to rotate through their meal or rest breaks conveniently. Back in 2007, the Supreme Court of California ruled in favor of a store manager who had been forced to work for nine hours daily without taking a break. The court ordered the employer to pay an extra hour of pay for the days the store manager worked without meal/rest breaks.

Labor Code 512 of the California laws requires employers to offer meal breaks to their non-exempt employees under various conditions. The first condition involves them relinquishing any control they have over their employees’ activities. The second condition mandates them to relieve employees of all duties during the meal breaks. Employers are also cautioned against discouraging or impeding their non-exempt employees from taking an uninterrupted 30-minute break.

Who are Non-Exempt Employees?

Workers who have the right to meal and rest breaks under California's laws are known as non-exempt employees. Consequently, workers who are not entitled to the breaks are known as exempt employees. Exempt employees usually include those individuals carrying out executive, professional, or administrative functions for companies or organizations. Others include workers in occupations with special meal or rest break rules.

The Supreme Court of California requires employers not to supervise meal breaks and to ensure their non-exempt employees are not carrying out any work during the breaks. If you willingly choose to work during your legally-provided meal break, your employer will not compensate you for any worked hours. You would lose the chance to seek compensation for working during the break, even if your employer knew that you were working at that time.

Is it Right to Work Through Your Meal Break for You to Leave Work Early?

Working through a meal break will not entitle you to an early departure from work. On-duty meal breaks are only allowed under California's Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders when your employer meets various conditions. Your work must prevent you from getting relieved of all duties during your meal period. The employer must also allow you to sign a written agreement explaining the on-the-job paid meal break in detail.


Right to Rest Breaks in California

As a non-exempt employee, one of your rights is to enjoy a rest break period when working your shifts. A rest period can last up to ten minutes allowing you to take some time off from work. You have a right to seek payment during these rest periods. Your employer should also have suitable facilities for resting for you and your colleagues.

How Many Rest Periods Should You Have?

The length of your work shift helps determine the number of rest periods you can have. You have the right to a ten-minute resting time for every four hours you are working. However, if the working period is less than three and a half hours, you may not receive the ten-minute break. You will enjoy a ten-minute break when working a significant fraction of the four-hour shift. The phrase "a major fraction" can be applied to your case if you are working for more than two hours.


Richard Davis works a shift of six and a half hours at a local food joint. Since he works a major fraction of his four-hour shift, he is entitled to two rest periods of ten minutes each. The first rest period is for the four-hour shift, while the second one is for the additional two and a half hours he is working. The two-and-a-half working period, in this case, is the significant fraction of his work shift.

Rest Breaks Explained Further

As a non-exempt employee, a work shift of three and a half hours will not entitle you to any rest break. If you are working for three and a half hours and more, you have the right to one ten-minute break. A shift of over six hours will attract two rest periods with twenty minutes resting time. Every time you pass the four-hour milestone, your employer should grant you another ten-minute break.


When Should You Take Rest Breaks?

Under California's laws on rest breaks, rest breaks should fall in the middle of every work period. Your employer should allow you to take breaks in the middle of your shifts. However, if various considerations make these regulations impractical to follow, your employer can allow you to enjoy the breaks at other times of your shifts.

Can You Voluntarily Skip a Rest Break?

Your employer will not face any penalty if you voluntarily skip a rest break. If you decide to take one, your employer must authorize and allow the break, in compliance with the law. California's laws on rest breaks impose various penalties for employers who violate them. An employer will be liable for these penalties for failing to allow an appropriate resting period to non-exempt employees.

On-Call and On-Site Rest Periods

The California Supreme Court recently ruled that employers must relinquish the control on how their employees spend rest breaks. In the court decision, the judges agreed that employees must have their duties relieved when they are spending the break time. You have the freedom to spend your break time as you wish without any interruptions from your employer.


Right to Meal Breaks in California

Meal breaks should form part of the work shifts of non-exempt employees in California. A meal break can be in the form of 30 minutes granted to workers for them to attend to personal businesses. Taking the break will not entitle you to any compensation unless you are performing work duties during the break.

You do not necessarily have to spend your meal breaks eating. Your employer can choose whether or not to offer you and your colleagues food during these breaks. During the 30 minutes, you must be free to run your errands, remain on the premises, or leave the premises. The choice of how to spend a meal break entirely belongs to you.

The Number of Meal Breaks to Take

The number of meal breaks allowed per every non-exempt employee depends on the time each one of them spends on a work shift. A 5-hour shift or less will not attract a meal break. You will enjoy a 30-minute break if you work for more than five hours. A work shift of more than ten hours will attract two meal breaks of 30 minutes each.


When to Take Meal Breaks

Your first 30-minute meal break must begin before your fifth hour of work ends. If you are working for more than ten hours, your second meal break must start before the end of the tenth hour of work. Your employer's duty is to relieve you of all tasks and relinquish the control of your activities. The employer must also grant you a reasonable chance to spend the meal break without any interruptions.

It is unlawful for your employer to discourage or impede you from taking the 30-minute break. You have the right to give a mutual consent (whether written or unwritten) to your employer to have your meal break waived if you are working a six-hour shift or less. A work shift exceeding six hours will not allow you to have the 30-minute break. You can only waive your second meal break in a shift of less than twelve hours if you did not waive the first break.

On-Duty and On-Call Meal Breaks

Employers cannot relieve their employees of their work-related duties in limited situations such as on-duty meal breaks. Since you will be carrying out part of your work duties during these occasions, your employer must pay you. However, your employer will not incur any penalty for failing to grant you the right for a meal break.

The need for an on-duty meal break may arise when the nature of your work prevents you from seeking relief from all work-related duties. You can also make a written agreement with your employer regarding on-duty meal breaks. The agreement can help you recover wages for hours worked during a meal break. Ensure the consent form has a condition allowing you to revoke it at any given time.

Your employer must offer you suitable facilities to eat if one of the company's regulations mandate you to take meal breaks at the worksite. If your break occurs during a work shift starting at 9 PM and ending at 5 AM, your employer should have facilities for obtaining hot foods or drinks. Suitable sheltered places for heating or consuming foods and drinks should also be present at the worksite.


What are the Penalties for a Missed Meal and Rest Break?

California's laws on meal and rest breaks require employers to pay their employees one extra hour of pay at their regular hourly rates for missed meal or rest breaks. You have the right to earn an additional hour every workday if your employer fails to grant you rest breaks. A missed meal break will attract an extra one hour every workday.


Susan works a seven-hour shift at a local bakery. Unfortunately, Susan's employer does not grant her any rest periods or meal breaks during the shift. Though she missed one meal period and two rest breaks in the 7-hour shift, she can only seek payment for two extra hours.

Choices Employers Have to Make Regarding Meal and Rest Breaks

Employers with non-exempt employees must allow for rest periods and meal breaks as required by law. They can also agree with the employee to waive the break. One other option is to pay their workers a one-hour penalty for any missed break. If you choose not to take a rest period of meal break offered to you, your employer will not pay the penalty for the skipped break.


Are New Mothers Entitled to Lactation Breaks?

Female employees looking to express breast milk for their young ones must have lactation breaks granted by their employers. The breaks may coincide with their other rest or meal breaks. New mothers cannot seek payment for taking lactation breaks that occur outside the other break periods. They deserve a private location or room within the business premises for them to privately express milk.

Employers are at risk of facing severe consequences for failing to offer lactating mothers lactation breaks. The law requires them to pay a $100 civil penalty for each violation. They should grant the breaks in a way that would not disrupt their day-to-day business operations.


California's Meal and Break Laws Catering to Exempt Employees

Exempt employees are usually not entitled to rest periods or meal breaks. Common types of exempt employees include executives, administrators, and professionals. Specific rules or exemptions for various industries exist regarding these breaks as explained below:

Job-Specific Exemptions

If your work involves having direct responsibility for children, your employer may grant you on-duty meal breaks. Different industries have different exceptions to the meal and rest break laws. They include the motion picture industry, public agencies, the healthcare industry, and the wholesale baking industry. Others include commercial driving, security services, and construction. Various exemptions may apply to your case when working for a publicly-owned electric utility company, gas corporation, or electrical corporation.

Under IWC Order 5-2001, healthcare workers (unlike other workers) may have to remain under their employer's control during their meal periods without pay. The time may be spent attending to emergencies of different kinds. IWC Order 5-2001 gives minor exceptions to the general rule that employees must be paid when their employers require them to work during meal breaks.

Exemptions in the White-Collar Industry

You may qualify as an exempt employee if you earn at least twice the minimum wage for a full-time employment contract in California. Your primary work duties must comprise professional or executive tasks as well. As an exempt employee, your day-to-day work duties must involve the use of independent judgment and discretion.


Recovering Money for Missed Meal and Rest Breaks

You have three options when your employer deprives you of the right to a meal break or rest period. These options include filing a wage claim, filing a lawsuit, and resolving the dispute with your employer. Lawsuits tend to be expensive and time-consuming. You may also experience challenges trying to resolve the dispute with your employer, informally.

Out of the three options, the ideal one involves filing a wage claim with the DLSE (Department of Labor Standards Enforcement). Once you file the claim, the DLSE will issue your employer citations requiring them to compensate you. Though your situation will determine how to solve a missed break dispute, it would be ideal to get a lawyer's opinion on the matter. You only have three years (from the alleged violation of the meal break) to file a lawsuit or claim against your employer.

The DLSE Processing Your Claim

A Deputy Labor Commissioner will be assigned your claim to determine the best course of action based on the information presented and circumstances surrounding the claim. The course of action may involve the dismissal of the claim or a referral to a hearing or conference. If the commissioner recommends both parties to schedule a conference, you and your employer will be mailed the time, date, and venue of the meeting. Conferences help determine the validity of a missed break claim and suggest solutions without the necessity of a hearing.

Your claim may be referred to a hearing if the conference does not help resolve it. The commissioner may also have it dismissed for lack of evidence. At the hearing (which is usually recorded), all parties, together with the witnesses, will testify under oath. The parties will receive an ODA (Order, Decision, or Award) from the California Labor Commissioner once the hearing ends.

Each party has the right to appeal the ODA through a civil action. A California court of competent jurisdiction will establish the specific matter for trial and grant all parties the chance to present witnesses and evidence. The court's decision will not depend on the testimony or evidence the parties submitted during the hearing at the Labor Commissioner. DLSE usually represents employees who are financially incapable of affording a lawyer in the hearing in case their employer appeals.

Statute of Limitations on Filing a Claim for a Meal and Rest Period Violation

The California Supreme Court agreed that one additional hour of pay should be the remedy for meal or rest period violations following the case of Murphy Vs. Cole. Under Labor Section 226.7, the wage is subject to a statute of limitations of three years. In this case, employees have up to three years to file a claim regarding an alleged meal period violation.


Do You Have a Decent Case Against Your Employer?

Workers’ compensation attorneys consider various factors when determining whether non-exempt employees have a solid case against their employers. Taking time to discuss your situation with a lawyer can help verify whether your case can yield favorable outcomes. The factors lawyers consider are as follows:

  • The employer denied you a 30-minute unpaid meal break for a shift of eight hours
  • You did not enjoy two paid rest periods lasting ten minutes each for an 8-hour shift
  • Your supervisor impeded or discouraged you from having a meal or rest break
  • You were on standby or on-call during your meal and rest breaks
  • Various work-related factors interrupted your meal and rest period
  • You did not get two meal breaks (30 minutes each) for working more than ten hours in a workday
  • The employer required you to work and eat during your meal and rest breaks
  • You did not have permission to leave the work premises during your 30-minute break

What to Do When Your Employer Discriminates You for Demanding a Meal and Rest Break

You can file a retaliation or discrimination complaint with the Office of the Labor Commissioner if your employer retaliates your request for a meal/rest break. The complaint can also help you take legal action against an employer who discharges you for asking about your right to a meal or rest period. It can also apply to employers who discharge their workers once they threaten to file a claim or file a claim for missed breaks. Alternatively, filing a lawsuit in a California court against the employer can help your course.


Seek Legal Help on Missed Meal/Rest Breaks from a Lawyer Near Me

Meal and rest breaks focus on helping workers freshen up for them to be more productive at work. Orange County Workers Compensation Attorney helps non-exempt workers from Orange County, file claims or lawsuits regarding missed meal and rest breaks. If any of the situations discussed in this article happened to you or a loved one, do not hesitate to reach out to us on 949-423-3212.

We have other offices to serve you in Southern California: Los Angeles workers comp attorney & Long Beach workers comp attorney


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