Under California’s labor laws, 1099 independent contractors do not have a right to meal and rest breaks. These labor laws have caused many employers in Long Beach to misclassify their employees as independent contractors for them to avoid providing them with meal and rest breaks. By misclassifying them, they reap huge profits since they reduce their management and production costs. At The Workers Compensation Attorney Group in Long Beach, we will help you determine whether you are an independent contractor or an employee. We will also establish if you are entitled to typical employee benefits like meal and rest breaks. Our main goal is to ensure that your labor rights are not violated.

Meal Breaks in California

The legal definition of the term 'meal break' is an uninterrupted, unpaid period of half an hour that is provided to non-exempt employees. These employees can utilize this time on their personal affairs like meals and errands. Though it is referred to as a meal break, you are not obligated to eat anything during this period.

For an employer to issue a legal meal break, they must relieve his employee of his duties. They must also relinquish control of the activities of the employee, and permit their workers to take an uninterrupted break of thirty minutes. The labor laws of California forbids employers from impeding or discouraging employees from taking meal breaks through incentives, or promotion of a culture that encourages employees not to go for meal breaks. Note that the employer has to provide a meal break, but they do not have to ensure that you take it.

Timing and Number of Meal Breaks

The number and timing of meal breaks depend on the hours that the employee works. An employee who works for more than five hours in a single shift is entitled to one meal break during that shift. The employer should provide this meal break before the shift ends. If an employee works for more than ten hours in one shift, his employer must provide him with two meal breaks.

Can You Waive Your Right to Meal Breaks?

An employee who works for less than six hours in one shift may waive his right to a meal break. You do not have to put down your waiver in writing, but it must be expressly clear that both parties in the employment relationship have consented.

If your shift is over ten hours, you can waive your right to the second meal break, provided that you went for your first meal break. As an employee, you cannot waive your right to two meal breaks in one workday. Moreover, you are not entitled to leave your job early even if you worked at the time when you were supposed to go for a meal break.

On-Site Meal Breaks

Some jobs may not permit you to take meal breaks. For instance, it is quite challenging for an employer to relieve the duties of a security guard who is stationed alone in a particular location or a sole cashier at an all-night convenience store. Additionally, your employer may require you to remain in the work station during a meal break. In all these instances, your employer should provide you with an on-site meal break.

On-site meal breaks are usually paid. The employee must agree to be paid instead of taking a meal break, and this consent should be put down in writing. Also, the employee can revoke it at any time he wants.

Some people believe that you can be paid for a missed meal break. This belief is not true. Employees can’t collect premium payments for meal breaks that they willingly refused to take.

There are various requirements that the employer must fulfill if he intends to provide on-duty meal breaks. Some of these requirements include providing suitable places to eat from, and paying the employees even if he relieves them of their duties during the break period.  If your meal break comes in between 10 p.m. and 6.a.m. shift, your employer must provide a facility to help you partake your meal.

Rest Breaks in California

According to California employment laws, an employer must provide their employees with a rest break of ten minutes for every four hours that he has worked. Any work period that exceeds two hours is considered to be a significant fraction of a four-hour timeframe. For instance, an employee who performs his duties in a shift of seven hours should be provided with two rest breaks, each of them ten minutes long. The first break should be taken in the first four hours, and the employer should issue the second break within the last three hours. Here, these three hours is deemed to be a significant fraction of four hours since it exceeds the value of half of four hours.

Legal Requirements for Rest Breaks

A rest break should be uninterrupted, and its period should be ten consecutive minutes. The employer must relieve the employee of his duties during the break. Also, he must provide a suitable resting area, that should be in a place that is not adjacent to the toilet rooms. Furthermore, employers are not permitted to request or command employees to remain on-site or on-duty during the rest break period.

Can You Waive Your Right to Rest Breaks?

Yes, you can waive your right to a rest break. Although employees can skip taking rest breaks, the labor laws of California prohibits employers from encouraging or pressurizing employees to waive their right to rest breaks.

Industry Exemptions and Breaks for Exempt Employees

Exempt employees are legally entitled to meal breaks, but no rest breaks. For you to be categorized as an exempt employee, the value of your salary should be twice the minimum wage. Your duties should be primarily professional, administrative, or executive, and they must involve your independent judgment and discretion. 

The state of California has specific exemptions for various industries in regards to meal and rest breaks. Some of these industries include security, health care, electricity, construction, motion-picture, public agencies, public transport system, and trade unions. This list is not exhaustive, and the exemptions for these industries are incredibly complicated. If you are not sure whether you are entitled to meal and rest breaks, you should consult an employment lawyer.

Have You Been Misclassified as an Independent Contractor?

Has your employer hired you as an ‘independent contractor’ – yet in reality, you are an employee? Various factors can indicate that you are an employee. For instance, maybe you work full time, and you carry out tasks that are essential in the employer’s organization.

Some fraudulent employers may misclassify their employees as independent contractors to avoid certain legal obligations. The list includes contributing to payroll taxes, paying some of their profits into the state unemployment insurance program, or providing workers compensation insurance. Some of them may also attempt to avoid their responsibilities under California's wage and hour laws, including paying overtime and minimum wage, issuing paychecks, and providing rest and meal breaks. Whether you have been intentionally or accidentally misclassified, you will be entitled to compensation for all the wages you would have been paid had you been appropriately classified as an employee.

California labor laws describe an independent contractor as one who performs services and are paid a fixed payment for a specific result. If a person who hires you exercises control on how you carry out your duties, then you are an employee.

Law courts in California frequently use the ABC test to determine whether a person is an independent contractor or an employee. By presumption, this test deems all workers as employees. However, a person may be classified as an independent contractor if their employer asserts that they are free from their control in the performance of their work. They do not have to carry out their duties within the premises of the employer. Further, they are customarily engaged in a business, occupation, or trade that they independently established, and that involves the nature of their work.

This ABC test was first utilized in 2018, and it replaced the Borello test. The Borello test was a multifactor test that was primarily used by California courts to gauge whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor.

In a nutshell, a real independent contractor must run their business. They also have a right to refuse or accept work, work for whomever they wish, determine their pay, when and where to work, and how to do the job. Independent contractors are not required to work within the employer's organization. Often, they have their own equipment, and they provide a specialized skill.

On the other hand, an employee can only work for up to two employers – but most of the time one. The employer must provide for them a workstation, and they must abide by their employer’s schedule and rules. They are subject to the direction and supervision of the employer. An employee does not exercise discretion as to when, where, and how to do the work.

Independent Contractor Agreements and Hiring Arrangements

Sometimes, your employer may request you to sign a separate contractor agreement. When you sign such a contract, you have expressed your consent that you should be classified as an independent contractor. This will prevent you from asserting your rights of receiving certain employee benefits such as overtime and meal and rest breaks.

However, these independent contractor agreements are not valid, and the U.S. Department of Labor does not recognize them. Therefore, they cannot affect the nature of your hiring relationship.

Note that you can still be categorized as an employee, even if you signed an independent contractor agreement. What can determine the nature of your hiring relationship is if you had an understanding that you were forming an employer-employee relationship with the individual or organization that hired you.

What to Do If Your Employer Misclassifies You as an Independent Contractor to Avoid Providing You with Meal and Rest Breaks

There are various steps to take to enforce your labor rights. The steps are available if your employer has misclassified you as an independent contractor to avoid providing you with rest and meal breaks. As an employee, you are entitled to an extra pay hour for each workday when there was a meal and rest break violations. This additional pay is commonly referred to as premium pay.

If your employer does not pay you the premium, you may:

  • Directly handle the meal and rest break dispute and the independent contractor misclassification dispute with your employer informally
  • File a wage claim with the U.S. Division of Labor Standards Enforcement
  • Institute a wage and hour lawsuit against your employer

Your employer may not be willing to handle the rest and meal break dispute informally. Often, a wage and hour lawsuit might be the only recourse for you to obtain compensation for the meal and rest break violations of your employer. If you win your wage and hour lawsuit, the court will award you with monetary damages. However, you can file a wage claim with the US Division of Labor Standards Enforcement to obtain your premium payment and stop your employer from misclassifying you. 

Each employment dispute is unique. So, it is wise to consult a workers’ compensation attorney for you to assess all the viable options.

Filing a Wage Claim with the US Division of Labor Standards Enforcement

Filing a wage claim with the US Division of Labor Standards Enforcement is one way of seeking compensation if you are denied a meal and rest breaks. This wage claim will initiate the process to collect any payment that you deserve and enforce your labor rights.

There are various documents that you may need to file a wage claim. Some of these documents include the time records of the hours you work, your paychecks, and other basic employment information like the name and address of the company or individual you work for.  You can institute your wage claim in person, or by mail or email. You can consult an employment attorney for assistance in filing your claim, or you can reach out to any Labor Commissioner’s Office that is near you.

After you have filed your wage claim, the Labor Commissioner’s Office will commence investigations. This office may arrange for a settlement conference between you and your employer to resolve all the issues. In case these issues are not resolved at the settlement conference, a hearing will be scheduled in that your claim will be decided.

Wage and Hour Class Action Lawsuits in California

A class action wage and hour lawsuit in California is a civil claim that is brought in by a large group of employees who sue a specific employer. These employees usually have a common grievance that needs legal redress.

You should consider instituting a class action wage and hour lawsuit if you believe that your employer has infringed the employment rights of many employees working in their organization. For example, if you are around ten employees, and all of you have been denied rest and meal breaks and misclassified as independent contractors; you can institute a class action lawsuit to obtain compensation. Unfortunately, your employer may require you to sign an arbitration agreement as part of the hiring arrangement. These agreements may preclude you from participating in class action lawsuits.

There are various advantages of wage and hour class action lawsuits. A class action will help your workers’ compensation attorney to pool together resources that can prove your claim.

Typically, attorney fees are a percentage of the total amount that the employee plaintiffs will recover. The higher the number of employee plaintiffs, the more significant damages, and attorney's fees. Therefore, class action lawsuits justify your attorney to devote most of their time and resources to them because they promise huge rewards.

Furthermore, a class action in a wage and hour claim will increase your bargaining power with your employer. Most employers panic when they hear that their employees have instituted class action lawsuits against them, due to the large amounts of money involved. Such employers may quickly agree to a settlement, and they will pay you all the wages that they owe you to avoid trial expenses.

Damages for Wage and Hour Lawsuits

Besides premium pay, the court will award you with monetary damages if you win your wage and hour lawsuit. Monetary damages are a form of financial compensation for the labor law violations of your employer.

The amount of damages that the court will give you is not fixed, and it will vary per the wage and hour violations of your employer. If your employer willfully misclassified you as an independent contractor to avoid providing you with meal and rest breaks, the court may fine him between $5,000 - $25,000 for each violation. Such an employer will not be permitted by the court to make any deductions from what he owes you.

Furthermore, you may be awarded liquidated damages. These damages are usually equal in value to your premium payments. For example, if your premium payment is $10,000; then the value of liquidated damages will also be $10,000. So, you will be paid $20,000. These damages would be for punitive purposes, primarily if your employer did not act in good faith. You will also be entitled to interest on the premium payments, and compensation for the costs of the lawsuit, including your attorney's fees.

It is not your duty to maintain and keep records of all the meal and rest break violations of your employer.  If you are unsure of the value of the payment your employer owes you, your workers' compensation attorney can help you determine the value. Provide your attorney with all the information they may require to compute the sums due. 

Typically, wage and hour lawsuits are settled quickly; just within a couple of months. However, in case your employer chooses to defend himself vigorously, your suit can last for more than one year. 

The Statute of Limitations and Wage and Hour Lawsuits

You must find out whether you have run out of time before you institute a wage and hour lawsuit. California's Statute of Limitations has enlisted specific timeframes that you must observe when filing civil claims. If this period lapses, the court won't permit you to submit your claim.

In California, you must institute a wage and hour lawsuit within three years from the date of the violation. In case these three years end, you won’t have any legal recourse left to enforce your right to meal and rest breaks.

We recommend you to institute a wage and hour claim as soon as possible so that you can easily prove it. This is because you will have access to all your work documents, and some of your colleagues can become witnesses in your case.

Can Your Employer Terminate Your Employment Because You Filed a Wage and Hour Claim Against Him?

No, it is illegal for your employer to fire you just because you filed a wage and hour claim against him. Your employer can't discriminate or retaliate against you in any manner whatsoever if you report him to the authorities.

Some employers may take action against you if you sue them or report their unlawful actions to the authorities. Such employers are deemed to have violated California's labor laws since they will have terminated your employment wrongfully. The courts will penalize them for their unlawful actions.   

Find a Long Beach Workers Compensation Attorney Near Me

Maybe you do not know whether you are an employee or an independent contractor. Or, perhaps you believe that your employer has willfully misclassified you as an independent contractor to violate your employment rights. In such situations, call us at 714-716-5933 as soon as possible.

The Workers Compensation Attorney Group will help you obtain the amount of wages that you rightfully deserve. We will be delighted to see you have a better working experience in Long Beach.