Meal Breaks and Unpaid Wages

CLC 512Failure to provide adequate meal and rest periods are one of biggest areas of employment disputes. California has strict meal and break laws, perhaps some of the strictest in the country.

What are the California Meal Break Laws?

California employers must legally provide employees who work more than 5 hours a day with a 30 minute unpaid lunch break, which must occur no later than the 5th hour of work. However, employers often break the rules by interrupting the employee’s break in some way. The employer must pay the employee during the break if they interrupt the break in any of the following ways:

  1. Fail to relieve the employee of all duties
  2. Fail to give employees free control of their activities
  3. Impede the employee from taking an uninterrupted 30 minute break

However, if an employee is working only 6 hours, he or she may voluntarily waive the right to the meal break.

Employees who work long hours in a day may also be entitled to a second meal break. When an employee works for more than 10 hours a day, they must receive a second meal break no later than the 10th hour of work. Although, as with the first meal break, an employee can waive his or her second meal break if:

  1. The employee took advantage of the first meal break
  2. The employee is working 12 hours or less
  3. The employee and the employer both consent to waive the meal break

In some unique situations, an employee can take an “on-duty” meal break. This would occur if the nature of the work prevents the employee from being completely relieved of duty.

What Happens When an Employer Fails to Provide Breaks?

When employers fail to provide an uninterrupted 30-minute meal break period, employers must pay the employee compensation for an entire hour of work. Keep in mind that if an employee is given a break, the employer is under no duty to ensure that the employee actually takes the break. However, the line between providing breaks and having unofficial policies that discourage breaks is thin. It is best to contact an attorney in these situations to find out if your employer is subtly impeding you ability to take a break.

Employees generally have 3 years to file claims for unpaid wages, although special circumstances may apply. Because claims can be barred after a certain amount of time, it is critical that you take action quickly if you think your employer has failed to provide you with proper meal or rest breaks.

The California employment law attorneys of Baker Law Group, LLP have many years of experience handling wage cases related to proper meal breaks. To schedule your Free Consultation, contact Michelle Baker today at (858) 452-0093.