California Meal/Lunch Breaks Law Explained
In California, non-exempt Employees (those entitled to overtime) are entitled to one 30 minute uninterrupted meal break after 5 hours of work unless your work day is completed after 6 hours of work. If you are required to work through your meal break (lunch break) or your break is interrupted you must be compensated for this time. If the nature of your job prohibits you from taking an uninterrupted break, you may, by entering into a written agreement with your Employer take “on duty” meal breaks of which you should be paid. Such agreement is revocable by the Employee at anytime and the agreement must contain language to this effect under California Code of Regulations, Title 8, §11040. Most jobs, under California overtime and labor laws, do not qualify for “on duty” meal breaks. It is clear that California labor laws protect the Employee, and do not allow Employers to simply waive meal breaks without a written, revocable agreement with the Employee. If you think your employer may be in violation of California break law, our labor law attorneys are available to review your potential claim.
Employers have commonly attempted to manipulate the California meal break laws by sending Employees home early, for example, after 7 ½ hours of work. This would be a violation since California labor law provides that the Employee must be given a meal break after 5 hours of work. It should also be noted that if you work more than 10 hours you are entitled to two meal breaks (lunch breaks), one after each 5 hours of work. If you do not receive timely meal/lunch breaks or actually receive no meal breaks, you are entitled to one hour of additional pay for each day that you miss your meal break under California labor law. This California break law related to meals is covered by California Labor Code 512. California labor code information can be found on our Resources page.
Recent Case Decided on California Meal Breaks
In a widely watched case, Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. the courts determined that missed meals are considered a wage and not a penalty. This is a critical decision for Employees since the California Labor Code allows Employees to collect wages by statute for 3 years and perhaps up to 4 years under the unfair competition statute. At the date of this writing, there is new California break law legislation awaiting the California Supreme Court’s ruling.
California Rest Breaks Law Explained
In addition to employee meal breaks, non-exempt California Employees are entitled to a 10 minute break for each 3.5 hours worked. While this break must be paid, the Employer is not required to keep track of these breaks
(rest periods) in their timekeeping system, although many Employers do. In the event an Employer does not allow a 10 minute break for each 3.5 hours worked, Employees are entitled to one hour of pay
per California labor laws on rest breaks. If you have questions about California meal or rest break laws, our California labor law attorneys are available to answer questions or review your potential wage claim. This California break law related to rest periods is covered by California Labor Code 226.7.
Even with the stringent California labor code guidelines enforced by California laws for meal and rest breaks, this area remains one frequently abused by California employers. Below are frequently asked questions that may be helpful in your review of violations of California break laws.
FAQs – California Break Law
Question: When I do not have time to take my meal break for lunch, my employer changes my time card so that it appears I took my lunch break and I do not get paid for those 30 minutes. Is this legal?
Answer: Changing an employee time card is illegal in California and may also carry criminal penalties.
Question: Is my employer required to provide “back up” so I can take my lunch break away from my desk/the store?
Answer: While your employer is not required to hire additional personnel to act as a backup, should you not receive a 30 minute lunch break after 5 hours of work, you are entitled to one hour of wage.
Question: If it is my choice to work through my meal break period so I can leave work 30 minutes early, is this allowed?
Answer: No, choosing to work through your lunch meal break does not entitle you to leave your job prior to your scheduled quitting time.
Question: If I clock back in from my lunch break just one minute late, my employer docks me for 15 minutes. Can they do that?
Answer: If you are non-exempt, or in other words, entitled to overtime pay, your employer must pay you for all of the time you spend working and may not deduct in excess of time actually not worked.
Our California labor law attorneys are available to provide a free case evaluation of any California break law violations. Contact us to discuss potential break or rest period claims.