Rest breaks are a mandatory requirement by the California Labor Code, and all employers must adhere to these guidelines or risk getting into legal trouble. Temporary and permanent workers must familiarize themselves with these laws and any amendments. This understanding will save them from being taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers in the state. The Workers Compensation Attorney Group in Long Beach has prepared this guide so you can become acquainted with employment law, and more specifically, meal and rest law.
The California Labor Code section 512 and the Industrial Welfare Commission Orders devised a wage and hour law to guide employers on what is required of them. This law stipulates that non-exempt employees are entitled to a thirty-minute meal break if they are working for more than five hours per day.
This regulation applies across industries covered under 14 orders, and it covers workers engaged in domestic jobs and agricultural work. However, if an employee will not work for more than six hours, they are free to waive their lunch break. Employees who work for more than ten hours must get another thirty-minute meal break. In this scenario, a worker can disregard the second meal break if they will not work for more than twelve hours. They can also forfeit the second meal break if they already took their first lunch break.
The California Labor codes accord meal breaks for non-exempt employees who work for three and a half hours (or more) in a day. Such employees must be allowed a ten-minute lunch break for every four hours of work. On the whole, no employer should deny a worker a ten-minute rest break every four hours, and a thirty-minute lunch break every five hours.
Labor attorneys are always being bombarded with complaints about employers who refuse their staff the required rest breaks as per hours of work. Read on to understand what rest and meal breaks you are entitled to, and what actions you can take if your rights are infringed upon in this regard.
What are Rest Breaks?
Rest breaks are periods when workers are allowed not to work so they can have a meal, smoke, chat with friends, take a phone call, etc. This period is designed to break the monotony of work, so your body and mind are not exhausted.
You are not mandated to take rest breaks, so you can decide to continue working and get compensated for this. It is common to find employees who need to earn an extra income, not taking rest breaks so they can log it in as part of their working hours.
Please note, your employer does not pay for meal breaks, but this time must remain uninterrupted, so the employee enjoys their meal. Therefore, you should not be pressured to spare some of your lunch breaks so you can finish up tasks. By doing so, your employer would be contravening the California Labor Codes.
When it comes to rest or meal breaks, your employer cannot coerce you to waive your free time directly or indirectly. The indirect method may happen by assigning too much work that may necessitate working over lunch. If the task at hand cannot be completed without missing these breaks, this counts as coercion, and you must be keen to raise the alarm.
What is the On-Duty Meal Period?
Sometimes, the nature of work may require an employee to remain on-call during their lunch break, and when this happens, this time is factored in as time worked. Your employer should not take advantage of this provision and make your work during lunch break. Such an arrangement is only permitted when the nature of work prevents relief from all duties. What's more, there must be a written agreement between the parties, and the worker is free to revoke this agreement at any time.
Take an example of a security guard. This employee is entitled to a lunch break, but they will have their walkie-talkie with them in case of any security emergency. If they cannot abandon lunch to address the issue, they will delegate this immediate task to another capable guard. In this scenario, an employer cannot claim the guard was free as their time was still under the company's control.
Another example of a paid lunch break is a secretary who is required to attend lunch meetings with the boss and take notes. She may also be needed to participate in a monthly workshop that happens on the first Friday of the month, during lunch hour. Her boss may also require her to run errands when on lunch break, which means this time is not entirely under her control. In all these scenarios, this secretary has mandatory tasks that have to be accomplished during lunch breaks.
Determining Rest and Meal Breaks
As mentioned previously, rest breaks and lunch breaks are dependent on the number of hours you are expected to clock in per shift. The Department of Industrial Relations explains how much time is allocated to meal breaks as per the respective working hours. Here is a breakdown of how much meal breaks you are entitled to as per your working hours:
Duration of Shift
# Meal Breaks
Less than 5 hours
5 to 10 hours
10.5 to 15.5 hours
16 to 21 hours
IWC Orders Guidelines
If you must have meals onsite, your employer must provide a designated space for lunch breaks, so you don't have to dine at your desk. Workers who are covered by IWC Order 16-2001, such as construction, mining, and logging jobs, are not entitled to a lunch area. In their case, the company must provide them cleansing agents and disposable hand towels so they can prepare well before meals. Construction and related industries change site locations, and so these handwashing stations must be mobile as well.
In a 24-hour job economy, some meal breaks can be slotted in before or after shifts ending between 10 pm, and 6 am. All IWC Orders apart from 12, 14, 15, and 16-2001 stipulate that employers must avail hot food and drink, or at least provide heating facilities to warm meals.
Reasonable Opportunity for Breaks
California Labor Codes require that all employers accord their workers a "reasonable opportunity" to enjoy their meal and rest periods by doing the following:
- Relieving the employee of all their responsibilities as per their job description
- Surrendering control over what the worker is doing while on breaks
- Not attempting to dissuade or impede workers from taking a break
You must take notice of instances where your supervisor is breaking the law hoping that you are too scared to complain.
Rest and Meal Breaks for Unionized Workers
There are exceptions to the meal and rest break law in California. Section 512 of the Labor Code explains that these rules do not cover employees who work in the film industry or broadcasting. Collective bargaining is widespread in many sectors, and unionized workers prefer to adhere to the requirements negotiated on their behalf by union leaders.
Apart from entertainment, other unionized workers don't follow the above meal and rest break laws. Workers in construction, security guards, commercial drivers, and people who work for utility companies usually follow terms agreed upon through collective bargaining.
Forceful Meal and Rest Breaks
Certain employers are so afraid of paying penalties that they force staff to take these rest breaks. They achieve this by configuring their time-clock software to automatically clock-out team for a rest break of ten minutes every four hours. The same forceful clocking out happens after every five hours to allow a meal break of 30 hours, and managers have no choice but to oblige.
This approach of forcing employees to take breaks at intervals is not generally considered unlawful unless the staff is on active duty at that particular time. Remember, interfering with how a worker executes their job will inevitably affect their performance, and this is wrong.
For instance, if you are forced to take a rest break when you have scheduled follow up calls with prospective clients, you are likely to lose that account. Failure to meet your sales targets could mean not getting the commission you deserve and not getting promoted.
Another exception to these forceful breaks is when employees cannot leave the premises for some reason. For example, there could be a torrential downpour that prevents them from going to eat at their favorite restaurant. If you are working the nightshift and the area is generally not safe, you may prefer to forfeit your rest break and remain at your desk.
If an employee is forcibly clocked out for breaks, but their manager refuses to let them rest, the said employee can lodge a claim under off-the-clock work law. Having an unreasonable supervisor is not uncommon, especially when the staff is vulnerable, e.g., immigrants. Whatever your immigration status may be, all workers are covered under the California law and can, therefore, hold their employers accountable.
Penalties for Violating the Meal-Rest Break Law
Under California law, employees can pursue legal action against employers who deny them rest and lunch breaks. This filing will help them recover the time lost for every rest and lunch break but in monetary terms.
If your employer fails to allow this break for one reason or another, they must pay premium penalties. Your employer will be ordered to pay the equivalent of one hour's wages for every lunch or rest break missed. If you are consistently denied meal or rest periods, you can claim two-days' worth of income for every day working in the past three years.
The breakdown for these monetary penalties (2019) is as follows:
- Meal penalty = daily wages equivalent to one hour with no meal break
- Rest penalty = daily wages equivalent to one hour with no rest break
- Total break-time penalty (2019) and damages = 3x usual hour's wages if no breaks are provided
Can an Employee Waive their Lunch Breaks?
The law is clear that every employee is entitled to a half-hour lunch break for every five hours of work, but employees don't have to go for lunch. If you work for six hours or less, you can submit a written waiver declaring that you prefer to work over lunch break than have a meal.
Nonetheless, this waiver is not applicable to workers who are on shift for more than six hours. It does not matter whether you ask for it or your employer initiates the suggestion; it is unlawful either way.
For employees who work five hours or less, your employer does not have to allocate a lunch break as you can decide to have a meal after clocking out. If there is a staff cafeteria on site, you can have a meal there or eat away from the premises.
Despite the law being abundantly clear, rest and meal breaks often cause problems between employers and employees. Overtime is yet another area where things get murky, and workers can find themselves suffering at work., This is why you need to acquaint yourself with labor laws.
What Does California's Overtime Law State?
The state of California protects workers from working too many hours in a day or week without getting compensated duly. California's overtime law states that employees who work for eight hours per day or 40 hours per week are entitled to 1.5 times the standard rate for every hour spent on overtime.
The rate of overtime pay increases after reaching certain working hours such that if they work for twelve hours, they are entitled to double pay. This rate applies to all non-exempt employees. If you live in Long Beach and are required to work on Sundays too, your employer must compensate you for working overtime.
If you work more than eight hours on Sunday following a 7-day work week, you are also eligible for double pay on that Sunday. Please note, workers who are paid per hour or job must be treated the same when it comes to overtime, and great employers will uphold these guidelines.
You are eligible for paid rest breaks every 4 hours, and when your employer calculates overtime, they must include these rest breaks. Working hours plus rest breaks constitute the total number of hours worked.
How Do Employers Deny Workers Overtime?
Some managers may allow rest and meal breaks but skirt the law when it comes to overtime by making staff work longer than required. They then refuse to pay for this additional time, which is illegal, and employees may be too afraid to demand payment due to fear of retribution.
Mandatory Clocking Out
Some companies demand that you clock out during meals and rest periods or at the end of their shift, but they continue working. The extra work could be tidying up the premises, finishing logs, and other smaller tasks that are necessary for their positions. If you are a non-exempt worker, your employer cannot make you work without pay.
Extensive Preparation Time
Some jobs require workers to prepare extensively, such as wearing personal protective equipment (PPEs), rehearse procedures, making the workstation, etc. The law stipulates that workers must be paid for such preparation time as it is directly related to their assigned duties.
Earlier Reporting Times
It is not atypical to find employers asking their staff to report at least 15 minutes earlier than their mandated shift time. This extra time is generally used to prepare for work, but it eats into personal time. Supervisors can also use this time to brief employees on what is expected of them ahead of commencing their shift.
The law stipulates that official work starts when the employee’s time becomes controlled by their employer. Waiting time before or after work is also under the employer's control and so you are entitled to get paid unless you are exempted by law.
If you are needed at a meeting, regardless of when it takes place, the time spent at that meeting counts as overtime. The meeting could be to discuss how to increase sales, change the corporate culture, where to have the end-of-year party, or attend a farewell party for a senior boss. Provided your attendance is required, your employer must pay for such meetings.
Attending Training and Workshops
Staff is usually asked to attend seminars, workshops, and other training programs to hone their skills. These sessions are compulsory and must, therefore, be included in paid hours. If you are informed that refusing to attend said training would negatively affect your job, then exercise is part of work.
What are the Exceptions to Overtime Pay?
Every worker in California is entitled to overtime, but there are exceptions to this overtime rule. Exempt employees usually fall under administrative, professional, outside sales, or executive roles. California law states that for an employee to be classified as exempt, they must:
- Receive a monthly salary equivalent to not less than twice the California minimum wage for full-time job contracts
- Work on tasks that are mostly intellectual, creative, and one that calls for autonomous judgment and personal discretion
Employers are notorious for misclassifying employees, so they don't have to pay overtime and other benefits. If you recently got a job and are not sure about how the company classifies you, speak to Human Resources. If they are not open to discussing the matter, find a qualified labor attorney who can review your contract.
Independent contractors have rights too, so there should be a proper demarcation of your roles and responsibilities, and how you get compensated. Failure to credit workers with an accurate number of hours worked is wrong and must be addressed right away before the overtime racks up.
The Workers Compensation Attorney Group in Long Beach has encountered many cases where employees work like regular staff but are exempted from benefits. It is a cutthroat economy, and keeping costs low is a key performance indicator (KPI), and managers often cut corners by denying overtime.
How Can I Address Rest and Meal Break Violations?
The answer is a resounding, yes! If your employer has been violating rest and meal break requirements, your only recourse is taking them to court, so they face the justice system. They may have violated the IWC order by interrupting meal times, asking you to combine rest breaks, or demanding you sign a waiver. Some employers go to extremes by forbidding staff from leaving the premises
Meal and rest law is a sensitive part of employment law, and not every lawyer can handle such cases. There may need to file class-action lawsuits against influential employers who may retaliate by bullying you, so you drop the case or risk dismissal. Make sure you get an attorney who is adept with California or federal labor law so that they can represent you adequately.
Please note, the California overtime law works better for employees as compared to the federal one. The Workers Compensation Attorney Group in Long Beach specializes in these cases, and we have helped many employees recoup their wages. We know the state labor law inside out and are ready to fight for your rights, so you are treated fairly at work.
We understand that many immigrants flock the state to find work on this side of the border, but your immigration status should not deter you. No employer should take advantage of your situation and make you work extra hours without pay, or take away your rest and meal breaks.
Find a Long Beach Labor Attorney Near Me
If you have worked at your current job without getting the much-deserved rest and meal periods, your employer has grossly violated California's labor laws. They need to be held accountable for this, so you get your back pay and prevent them from doing this to you or someone else in the future.
Our qualified staff at The Workers Compensation Attorney Group in Long Beach believes in paying attention to every case, no matter how small the subject at hand. We shall examine your employment contract and gather every shred of evidence that can help us fight for your pay. Contact us today on 714-716-5933 for a free consultation so we can begin figuring out how to solve your problems.