Rest & Meal Breaks.

# When am I required to have rest and meal periods on the job?

California law provides that employees must receive a 30 minute meal break if they work in excess of five hours. During this time, the employee must be relieved of all duties because it cannot be a working lunch. If an employer fails to give a proper meal break, the employee can recover one hour of pay at their regular rate of pay for each day they are not provided a proper meal break.

There are exceptions to the rules regarding meal breaks. A bona fide "exempt" employee is not subject to this rule. If the work day is less than six hours, the employee can agree to waive the time period. In the health care industry, an employee can agree, in writing, to waive this meal period. Further, employees working under a collective bargaining agreement may not be subject to the rules regarding meal periods.

In some cases, an "on duty" meal break can be provided only when the nature of the job prevents the employee from being relieved of duty and if there is a written agreement between the employer and employee. The written agreement shall state that the employee may revoke the agreement at any time. These rules only apply to employees in California. Federal law does not have a meal time requirement.

California Law Meal Breaks & Rest Periods

California labor law requires that employees get rest breaks if they work over three and a half hours a day. These mandatory breaks must be in the middle of each work period and must be 10 minutes for every four hours worked or a fraction thereof.

If an employer fails to provide an employee a rest period, the employee can recover one hour of pay for each work day that the rest period is not provided. An exception to the rule is made for bona fide "exempt" employees. They are not subject to this rule.

What work time do I have to be compensated for?

Employees must be paid their wages for all of their work time. Work time is any time spent engaged in work that benefits the employer in some way. This includes work at home, opening and closing duties, pre-shift and post-shift work, and anything that is considered "an integral and indispensable" part of the employee's principal work. For example, time spent sharpening knives by a butcher is "an integral and indispensable" part of the butcher's work.

An employee is at work all hours he or she is under their employer's control and cannot engage in private pursuits. A worker who has to wait until they have an assignment is working and must be compensated. Likewise, if an employee is on-call and has restrictions on the use of free time, then that employee should be considered at work.

Even for unauthorized overtime, an employee must be compensated. An employer cannot "accept the fruits of the employees' labor" without paying their employees. Therefore, policies such as "employees will not be paid for unapproved overtime" will not win in court. Perhaps the worst violations occur when supervisors urge their employees to clock out and then continue work.

Employers cannot escape liability by refusing to keep records of their employee's "off-the-clock" work. In such cases, the law allows the employee to use reasonable estimates to reconstruct their work time.