California Labor Code Section 512

Eligibility Under Section 512

Meal Breaks for Employees

Employers must provide an employee with breaks for eating meals or else face liability. 

According to California Labor Code Section 512, employees must be allowed a meal break of at least 30 minutes when working more than 5 hours in a single day. The only exception is if the employee is only working 6 hours in the day, then they can agree to forgo the lunch. 

Employees must also be given a second meal break of at least 30 minutes when working more than 10 hours. Skipping this break is permissible only if the employee took the first lunch after 5 hours, is only working 12 hours, and agrees to forgo the second break.

Can I Choose to Work During My Lunch Break?

The meal break must be uninterrupted. However, in the case of Brinker Restaurant v. Superior Court of San Diego, the California Supreme Court held that employers need not enforce whether the worker takes a break. 

Though it need not enforce the break, the employer must pay the worker at the normal pay rate if the worker voluntarily works during the meal period if they know or should have known that the employee is working during the meal break. Employers may not require their employees to work during the meal period. They may not discourage taking meal breaks in any way. 

Some industries have special rules in regard to the timing of the meal break periods. For example, the motion picture industry employees can take breaks after the 6th hour of work. Employees with valid collective bargaining agreements can also alter the timing as to when meal breaks are allowed.

What if My Employer Fails to Provide a Lunch Break?

An employer who fails to provide a completely uninterrupted 30-minute meal break must pay the employee a meal break premium equal to an extra hour of work.  

If the decision to get back to work prior to 30 minutes was not voluntary, then even employees provided with a meal break less than 30 minutes must be paid the meal break premium.

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