Updated on September 11th, 2023

California Break Laws & Lunch Break Law

By Brad Nakase, Attorney

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California break laws and meal break law.

California rest break laws, lunch breaks law, and meal break laws requires that employees are given a thirty minute break every five hours worked. In California, a business is not allowed to hire someone without giving them a lunch break every five hours. The terms “meal breaks” and “lunch breaks” are used interchangeably.

Every day that an employee works over five hours, they are legally entitled to a lunch break lasting half an hour. The only caveat here is that an employee would have to work over six hours in a given day. When employees work over 10 hours, they are entitled to another half-hour lunch break. The one caveat here is that the employee would have to work at least 12 hours.

An employee must get paid if they work at any point during their half-hour meal break. This sort of situation turns it into an “on duty” lunch break, which is considered as time worked. An employer will be obligated to compensate that employee at the rate they normally get paid at. An “on duty” meal break law is allowed when the work someone is doing bars them from being able to take their allotted break. It is also allowed when an employee and employer have a written agreement that says they will get paid for lunch break. This agreement has to say that the worker is allowed to render the agreement null and void, in writing.

There is a test to determine if a worker is able to stop working to take a meal break. It has to be based on objective criteria to ensure that an employee is able to take the break. There are some jobs where it would not be possible for an employee to take such a break. These are generally positions where only one person is fulfilling duties, such as a single worker at a coffee shop.

An employee is required to get paid when they stay at the location of their occupation for break. Regardless of whether that person is working or not, they have to get paid. When an employer does not give the allotted lunch break to their employees, there is a penalty of sorts. They have to pay for an extra hour at the normal rate an employee gets paid at. This holds true for every day that these California break laws are not given. This extra time will then get factored into overtime pay.

At work locations where workers have to eat, there needs to be some place that they can reasonably eat. The exceptions to this are if the work site involves construction, drilling, logging, or mining. In these situations, drinking water, cleaning products, and paper towels need to be provided, at the very least.

Generally speaking, when a meal break takes place between 10 PM and 6 AM, there are extra requirements. There needs to be a place for an employee to get hot food or a hot beverage. Alternatively, the location for taking a break should provide a means of heating up food or a beverage. Having a microwave available for use is an easy way to ensure that these rules are followed. In the motion picture industry, hot food and hot beverages have to be offered to people working past 12 AM. The exception to this rule is in the case of off-production workers, who are usually supposed to work past 12 AM.

What is California Lunch Break laws?

Workers need to be given at least half an hour for a lunch break when they are working over five hours. This requirement is six hours for people working in the motion picture industry. A worker is considered to be “on duty” when they work at any point during their meal break. When this happens, an employer has to pay what the regular rate is that they get paid at.

The only time a lunch break can be considered to be “on duty” is when there is no other choice but to work through it. There also would have to be a formally written agreement between a worker and their employer indicating this. An objective test is required to determine if the kind of work someone is doing bars them from taking a break. If it does, they would be unable to take a meal break break. An example of this would be a solitary person working at a coffee shop.

An exception to this rule is in regards to people working in the motion picture industry. They are entitled to at least half an hour for a lunch break if they work six hours or more. This meal break can be extended to be up to an hour long. If six hours have passed since a meal break, another one will be given to that employee.

How Does an Employer Have to Give Meal Breaks?

An employer has to let an employee stop working entirely during a lunch break. They will also have to hand over that employee’s duties to someone else. Finally, they have to give them a half-hour break, without any interruptions. During this time, the employee will have to be allowed to enter and exit their place of work at their leisure.

Employers should never dissuade employees from taking their allotted meal breaks. This means they are not allowed to pressure workers to work in a way that gets rid of their California break laws.

What Are California Meal Breaks Laws?

Under California lunch break laws, when an employee works for longer than five hours, that worker must be allowed a meal break within that time. When an employee works over 10 hours, they have to get a second break within the second five-hour work break. A situation where this is not the case is when there is a written agreement between an employee and employer. Also, the motion picture industry has different guidelines when it comes to this.

What Can an Employee Do When an Employer Prohibit Them From Taking a Meal Break?

When an employer is not allowing an employee to take the allotted lunch break due, the employee may sue the employer. They will have to pay the equivalent to an hour of pay at an employee’s normal rate. This holds true for every single day an employee is not given their meal break (lunch break). If an employer does not follow through with the required payments, a wage claim can be filed against them.

Does an Employer Have to Pay Extra for a Meal Break When an Employee Willingly Works Through a Meal Break?

No, they do not. There is no extra pay that an employer needs to pay when an employee was officially relieved of their duties. However, if an employer is aware that one of their employees is working through their meal break (lunch break), they will be required to pay extra. This includes any overtime that may have been generated during the time an employee worked the meal break (lunch break).

Are You Allowed to Leave Work Half an Hour Early If You Don’t Take a Meal Break?

No, you are not. Just because an employee decides to work through an allotted meal break does not mean an employee can leave work earlier. There is one instance where an employee is allowed to work through a meal break (lunch break). This is when what an employee is working on bars you from ceasing work completely. In this case, you need to have a written agreement between yourself and your employer. This agreement also needs to say that you are allowed to revoke it, whenever you want to.

Can an Employer Demand an Employee Stay Onsite for a Meal Break?

Yes, they can. This is true even if an employee does not have to work during your lunch break. However, when this is the case, an employee is not being allowed to have time personal time, which means the employee must get paid. There are some exceptions for meal breaks however, which involving people working in the healthcare industry. In any case, there has to be a location onsite that allows for eating and drinking to be done without any issues. More specifically, this means that there has to be a place provided where someone can get hot meals or hot beverages. Alternatively, employees should have the ability to heat the meal or beverage.

If An Employee Works for Eight Hours Without a Given Meal Break, What Can the Employee Do?

If an employee finds herself working without meal break or lunch break, the employee has may file a wage claim with the office of the Labor Commissioner. Alternatively, you can sue your employer to get back what was not rightfully given to you. This includes an hour of extra pay for each day you were withheld a lunch break.

What Is the Longest Your Can Wait to File a Wage Claim for Meal Break (Lunch break) Laws Violation?

There is a statute of limitations when it comes to filing a wage claim for a meal break. Currently, it is three years from the moment a potential lunch break violation has occurred. This means that a claim has to be filed within those three years. If you do not, you will not receive any sort of due compensation.

What Is the Process to Follow Once a Lunch Break Laws Violations Has Been Filed?

After you file your claim for meal breaks violations, it will be relayed to the Deputy Labor Commissioner. The Deputy Labor Commissioner will determine lunch break violations after taking several things into consideration. They will review the circumstances of the meal break violations claim. The  Deputy Labor Commissioner will also consider what the best course of action would be to take for the lunch break violations. There may be a referral to a conference or hearing for meal break violations, or the claim will be dismissed.

If the meal break claim goes to a conference, both the employee and employer will receive a notice in the mail. This notice will provide the time and date of the scheduled meeting. This event helps ascertain whether a wage claim is valid or not. Additionally, it is the focus of this meeting to figure out whether an agreement can be reached without a hearing. It there is no resolution within a conference, then one of two things can happen. Either there will be a movement of the wage claim to a hearing, or the claim will be dismissed. A dismissal is usually done because there is not enough evidence supporting the lunch break wage claim.

When a meal break claim moves forward to a hearing, the employee and employer have to testify under oath. Everything said during the hearing is recorded, as a matter of official record. Upon the completion of a hearing, there is one of three results: Order, Decision, or Award.

If an Order, Decision, or Award (ODA) is the outcome of a hearing, both an employer and employee are allowed to appeal it. This appeal takes place in a civil court. Once the appeal reaches the court, that entity will schedule it for a trial. This is a situation where both the employer and employee are able to show and bring forth their evidence and witnesses. While both of these are allowed, they will not be what the court uses for its decision. If an employer is making an appeal, the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) is allowed to represent an employee who does not have the funds to hire an attorney.

What Can Be Done If An Employee Succeed in a Hearing But an Employer Does Not Pay or Appeal?

There may sometimes be a situation where an ODA favors an employee, without an appeal, yet an employer withholds paying the ODA. In a case like this, the DLSE has the right to place the ODA as a judgment against an employer. This holds the same weight as anything the court would have decided. There is also the option to retrieve the judgment on your own, or ask the DLSE to do it for you.

What Can Be Done When an Employer Retaliates Against an Employee Asking for Their Meal Break?

If an employer retaliates just because you asked why you were not given a lunch break, you can file a complaint. Discrimination and retaliation by an employer towards an employee is illegal. You should file a complaint with the office of the Labor Commissioner as soon as possible. Your other option is to file a lawsuit regarding your employer’s illegal behavior.

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