• Posted By Sirmabekian
  • 2022

Employers within the Golden State must adhere to the California meal break law, which requires every non-exempt employee to get a 30-minute meal or lunch break. They should receive this break after working five hours and those that work another five hours (ten hours in total) are eligible for a second 30-minute break.

What Types of Employees Should Receive Breaks?

California rest and meal breaks are only applicable to employees that are non-exempt. Examples of exempt employees include white-collar workers who fall under the following category:

  • They spend at least half their time performing creative, managerial, or intellectual work
  • Make monthly earnings that exceed twice the state’s minimum wage regarding full-time work
  • Frequently exercise independent judgment and discretion while performing their duties

It should also be noted that rest breaks don’t apply to individuals that are legally defined as being independent contractors. The same goes for employees who are unionized within certain industries that have collective bargaining-based agreements in place that specify meals breaks for a distinct schedule. Collective bargaining provisions for meal breaks can override California law, particularly for those that are employed in construction, security, commercial drivers, gas or electric companies, and the motion picture business.

Can Employers Require Employees to Be On-Call During Rest and Meal Breaks?

In most cases, employers should not require their employees to stay on-call or continue working during their rest or meal breaks. This means that if they request your assistance while you’re in the midst of eating or enjoying your break you can decline to offer it and should not be subject to retaliation. However, there are cases where employees choose to voluntarily continue working during a time when they should be on break, usually because they are concentrating on a sensitive task and don’t want to be interrupted. This is legally permissible. There is a scenario called “on-duty rest period” where workers are expected to continue working through a meal break. This is only permitted under the following circumstances:

  • The type of work being performed prevents the worker from getting relieved of their duty, such as a security guard who is the only one available to watch or guard a specific location
  • An employee agrees with an inscribed waiver to accept on-duty rest breaks but can revoke the written agreement at any point so long as it is done in writing.

Can Employers Be Sued for Not Providing Rest or Meal Breaks?

Yes, those employed in the state of California can pursue litigation against employers that deny them a rest or meal break as required under labor regulations. In fact, a number of class-action suits have successfully been filed against employers for this very reason.

In case an employer doesn’t provide the appropriate rest or meal break, they also owe the employees an extra hour’s worth of pay, at the standard pay rate, for every break that they’ve been denied. This means that if your employer denied you breaks for an entire workweek they would owe damages which equate to 7 hours of payment.

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