California Meal Break Law
Meal Break Obligations
You cannot employ someone for a work period of more than five hours without providing an unpaid, off-duty meal period of at least 30 minutes. The first meal period must be provided no later than the end of the employee’s fifth hour of work.
The employer satisfies its legal obligation to provide an off duty meal period to its employees if it:
- Relieves its employees of all duty.
- Relinquishes control over their activities.
- Permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted, 30-minute break.
- Does not impede or discourage them from doing so.
A meal break can be unpaid only if all of the above conditions are met. When a work period of not more than six hours will complete the day’s work, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and the employee.
Second 30 Minute Meale Break
Employers must provide a second meal break of no fewer than 30 minutes for all workdays on which an employee works more than 10 hours. The second meal break must be provided no later than the end of an employee’s 10th hour of work.
An employee can waive the second meal period only if all of the following conditions are met:
- The total hours worked on that workday are not more than 12.
- You and the employee mutually consent.
- The first meal break of the workday was not waived.
On-Duty Meal Breaks
Employees can take on-duty meal periods only in certain limited circumstances. An on-duty meal break must meet all of the following conditions:
- Is permitted only when the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty.
- Must be agreed to in writing by you and the employee.
- Must be paid.
- Can be revoked at any time in writing by the employee, except under Wage Order 14 (Agricultural Occupations).
Employers take note: Use caution and consult with legal counsel before authorizing on-duty meal breaks. On-duty meal periods have been upheld only in very limited circumstances.
If Employer Fails To Provide Meal Breaks, It Must Pay A Premium
When an employer requires its employees to work for five hours or more, an employer has three choices:
- It must afford an off duty meal period;
- Consent to a mutually agreed-upon waiver if one hour or less will end the shift; or
- Obtain written agreement to an on duty meal period if circumstances permit.
Penalties & Enforcement Of California Meal Break Law
Compliance is important for California employers since unlike employment laws in some states, this one carries stiff penalties. An employer who does not schedule and staff in a way that “provides” and “permits” an employee to take an uninterrupted, off-duty meal break on a shift, owes the employee an extra hour’s pay. If an employee works 8 hours with no meal break, the employer owes wages for 9 hours (at the employee’s usual hourly rate.) Employees, who are deprived of breaks, and not being paid the break penalty, can file a wage claim with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.
Exceptions – Legal Defenses To A Meal Break Violation
- First Meal Break Waiver: Employees can waive their right to their first meal period ONLY IF:
- It is waived in writing by mutual consent; AND
- The employee works no more than 6 hours in the work day
- Second Meal Break Waiver: Employees can waive their right to their second meal period ONLY IF:
- It is waived in writing by mutual consent; AND
- Employee does not work more than 12 hours in the work day
- “On Duty” Meal Break Waiver: (where still on duty during the meal period) may be permitted if:
- Written agreement between the parties;
- The employee is paid their regular rate of pay for that time; and
- The nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty;
- No Monitoring Meal Breaks: A very imp. Class action case called Brinker came down a few years back that stated employers DO NOT have to monitor whether employees are actually taking their meal breaks, employees ONLY HAVE TO provide meal breaks to employees.
General Guidelines For Employers And Employees
- The employer must relieve the employee of all duty
- The employer must relinquish control over all activities of the employee
- The employer must permit an uninterrupted 30-minute break
- The employer must not impede or discourage the employee from taking their 30-minute meal break
- All non-exempt employee lunch breaks must be provided and taken in a timely manner
- 10 minute breaks must be paid by employer
- Employers may not pressure or coerce the non-exempt employee to forgo a lunch break.
- If you work over 5 hours in a day, you are entitled to a meal break of at least 30 minutes. BUT, you can agree with your boss to waive this meal period provided you do not work more than 6 hours in the workday. You can also agree with your boss to an on-duty meal break which counts as time worked and is paid.
- If you work over 10 hours in a day, you are entitled to a second meal break of at least 30 minutes. You can agree with your boss to waive the second meal break if you do not work more than 12 hours and you did not waive your first meal break.
- Your boss has an affirmative obligation to ensure you are free to take your meal break off work premises.