Under California law, which is more generous to employees than federal law, employees are entitled to specific meal and rest breaks. Indeed, California is one of the few states that require employers to give their workers both meal and rest breaks. In one of our recent landmark cases, heard by the Supreme Court of California, it was affirmed that “on-duty” rest breaks are in violation of California wage and hour laws (more on this precedent-setting decision here).
Meal Breaks in California
Under state law, if employees work at least five hours in a shift, they are entitled to receive a 30 minute unpaid meal break. If, however, the employee will work six hours (or less) during their shift, they can agree to waive their meal period.
For employees who work ten hours, they are entitled to two 30 minute unpaid meal breaks. If their shift will not go past 12 hours, employees may waive their second meal break, but only if they took advantage of the first unpaid meal break. Employees may not choose to waive both unpaid meal breaks.
If an employer requires an employee to run an errand or otherwise perform some type of work that benefits the company during their lunch break, the employee is legally entitled to compensation for the time that they worked. Employees are allowed to leave the worksite for their unpaid meal periods under California case law.
Rest Breaks in California
In California, employers are required to provide short paid breaks throughout the work day. For every four hours worked, the employee is entitled to a paid 10 minute break. If an employee works five hours in a day, or if they work hours that would make a break every four hours jarring, the break can be moved to an interval that makes sense. For instance, someone working a five hour shift each day may find it better to take their 10 minute break when they are half way through their shift instead of working for four hours and then taking a break. Employers are not required to allow employees to leave the premises for their break periods. Employees are also free to work through their breaks if they choose to do so, but they may not be forced to do so by their employer.
Failure to comply with break requirements can result in serious fines. For more information on meal and rest breaks in California, contact experienced employment attorney Drew E. Pomerance today.