FAQ About Meal Periods

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Meal and rest break compliance is often a problem for many California employers. California workers must understand any California laws that apply to meal and rest breaks. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about California’s requirement that employers provide meal periods to their employees.

What are the basic requirements for meal periods under California law?

Under California law, an employee must be provided with no less than a thirty-minute meal period when the work period is more than five hours (more than six hours for employees in the motion picture industry).

How does an employer satisfy its legal obligation to provide a meal period?

Employers must do more than simply make a meal period “available.” Generally, to satisfy its obligation to provide a meal period, an employer may not impede or discourage employees from using their meal period and an employer must:

  • relieve employees of all duty,
  • relinquish control over their activities, and
  • permit them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break where they are free to come and go as they please.

How is an employer required to time any first or second meal period that must be provided during the workday?

An employee who works for a work period of more than five hours must be provided with a meal period no later than the end of the employee’s fifth hour of work – no later than the start of the employee’s sixth hour of work.

An employee who works for more than 10 hours, must be provided with a second meal period no later than the end of the employee’s tenth hour of work – no later than the start of the employee’s eleventh hour of work. These are subject to mutual consent waivers by the parties.

What can I do if my employer is not providing the legally required meal period?

If your employer does not provide the required meal period, it must pay you meal period premium pay, which is one hour of pay at your regular rate of compensation for each workday that the meal period is not provided. If your employer fails to pay this meal period premium pay, you may file a wage claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

Can I choose to work through my meal period so I can leave my job 30 minutes early?

No. Only by written agreement between the parties and if the nature of the work prevents the employee from being relieved of all duty, may the employee take an “on-duty” meal period.

What if I freely choose to keep working during the meal period, can I receive meal period premium pay?

No. An employer would not be liable for meal period premium pay if it relieves the employee from duty and relinquishes employer control while not discouraging the employer from taking the meal period.  However, an employer that knows or has reason to know an employee is performing work during the meal period must compensate the employee for the time worked.

California employees have the legal right to compensation if their employers violate the state’s wage and hour laws. The experienced and knowledgeable employment law attorneys at Moss Bollinger will help ensure that your rights as a California worker are protected if your employer has engaged in any illegal conduct under California law. Contact Moss Bollinger today at (866) 535-2994 or reach us online.

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