Can I Sue My Employer for No Lunch Break?

No Lunch Break? Hit Me Up!

Brad Nakase, Employment Attorney

Workers in California might wonder if it is a requirement for their employers to give them breaks for rest and meals. While is it not a requirement by the Federal law for workers to be given periods of meal and break by their employers during the day, things are different when it comes to California’s State law. You can sue your employer for no lunch break!

California Labor Code §512 is the section of the law concerning the rights of workers to meal breaks. Meal periods may not be impeded or discouraged by an employer. Employees must be paid for any work that an employer has them do during lunch breaks.

A company is obligated to allow an employee to do whatever they wish to during their meal period and must relieve them of all duties during this time. Employees are relived of all duties and can leave the work location during their half hour lunch break, which is unpaid and not counted as working hours.

This means no checking emails, no helping customers, no work phone calls, and no running small errands for the business while picking up their lunch. The employee has complete freedom to do whatever they want during this time. Below are answers to your question, “Can I sue my employer for not giving me breaks?”

I’d like to hear your story. What happened?

Nonexempt California Employees are Entitled to Meal and Rest Breaks

Nonexempt employees in California must be given rest and meal breaks by their employers after working a defined number of hours. According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), nonexempt employees are eligible to receive overtime pay for the excess hours that they work; this is different compared to the exempt employees who do not work by the hour and are usually paid a salary.

In case of any ambiguity regarding your status, it is best to speak to your HR department before filing a complaint.

How Many Hours Can You Work Before Taking a Lunch Break?

Employers are bound by the California Labor Law to provide certain employees with breaks and meals. The following meal break rules apply for nonexempt employees in California:

  • You must be provided with a half hour meal break by your employer once you have completed 5 hours of work in the day. If you are not working for more than six hours that day, you have to option to have the meal period waived.

  • You are entitled to 2 half hour meal breaks in case you are required to work more than ten hours in a day. However, the 2nd meal break can be waived if the work shift is no longer than twelve hours, and the 1st half hour meal break was taken.

  • California law allows you to leave the work premises for your meal breaks if you wish.

  • As per California law, no work is required to be done during meal breaks.

Can I Work 5 Hours Without a Lunch Break?

An employee is entitled to a 30 minute lunch break on the fifth hour. If the employer does not give a lunch break, the employer owes an hour of wage for the missed lunch break in addition to the time worked during the missed lunch break. For example, if an employee’s wage is $20/hr, and he missed a 30 minute lunch break, the employer owes the employee:

$20 for the missed 30 minute lunch break

$20 for the hour worked

$40 total

Are Meal Breaks Paid?

California law does not require your employer to pay you for meal breaks. However, an agreement can be signed between an employee and manager stating that meal breaks will be paid in case you are on-duty.

Requirements of Rest Breaks in California

Employers are also required to provide certain employees with rest breaks according to California labor law. The following rest break rules apply for nonexempt employees in California:

  • You must be provided with one 10-minute rest break by your California employer if you workday is at least 3.5 hours.

  • If the job nature allows for it, then the employer should provide rest breaks in between the work period.

  • At least ten minutes of rest break is required to be given to the employee, for every 4 hours worked during the day.

  • Leaving the work premises is not required to be permitted by the employer during rest breaks.

  • During rest breaks, you are not obliged to work as per California law.

  • According to California law, you have the option to skip a rest break if you want to.

Are rest breaks paid?

California law calls for employees to be paid during their rest breaks, this is different compared the meal breaks law.

Can Meal Breaks be Waived by an Employee?

On some occasions, yes. To begin with, the Labor Code of California states that the employer and employee both must be in agreement of the meal break being waived. Next, as stated above in Labor Code §512, if an employee has worked more than ten hours, they can only waive the second meal break if the first one was taken. Lastly, in case an employee is working only 5 or 6 hours in the day, the employer and he/she can agree to skip the one and only applicable meal break.

Workers have the right to get permission to have a lunch break waived, but it is against the law for an employer to intimidate or harass an employee and stop them from taking their lunch period, which is their legal right.

Can I Sue My Employer for Not Giving Me Breaks in California?

It is possible to sue your employer if they break the California laws for meal and rest breaks and refuse to allow you these breaks during work. In the state of California, it is the responsibility of the employer to make sure all employees are free from work during their rest and meal breaks.

Employers can face severe consequences if they deny an employee their breaks or do not pay them for working during these rest breaks. Additionally, failing to adhere to these laws means that the employer would be required to pay the employee an additional hours wage for every workday that this law was violated. These requirements do not apply to some industries such as manufacturing, healthcare and others.

How to Sue Your Employer for Not Giving You Breaks

The state law in California says that nonexempt workers are entitled to rest and meal breaks. There are strict deadlines when filing for violations against rest and meal breaks; that is why it is essential to get in contact with a seasoned labor and employment attorney as soon as possible if you feel like these laws are being violated by your employer. For a free consultation, contact our California employment lawyers in today.

The law does not require for coffee breaks and short rest periods to be given. However, most employers have made it a norm to give their employees two 15-minute breaks in the day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon during 8-hour work days in order to keep their employees happy and satisfied.

The FLSA says that breaks lasting only a few minutes must be paid. As per the FLSA, breaks that are between 5 and 20 minutes long should fall under paid time. This indicates that employees are able to take 2 quick breaks during the day for which the employer cannot deduct any amount from their paycheck.

Employers can be sued by their employees for several different unfair practices, these include wrongful termination, unpaid overtime wages, harassment, and discrimination. However, not allowing lunch breaks for employees does not count as unfair treatment of employees and therefore isn’t an actionable claim. In most cases, employers cannot be sued for failing to give employees a lunch break.

Fair Labor Standards Act

Employers are given guidance on nonexempt and exempt employee categorization, overtime compensation, working hours, minimum wage, federal rules and the FLSA by the US Department of Labor. It is clearly stated on the website of the federal agency that rest and lunch breaks are not required by the federal law.

However, if the employee handbook of a company states that the employees are allowed lunch breaks and they are still refused by the employer, this is then considered a breach of contract and the employee can file a lawsuit. Additionally, in case some employees are given breaks for lunch while others who work similar hours aren’t, the employer can be sued for setting precedence and unequal treatment of employees.

Contacting an Attorney

People who have faced unfair treatment by an employer can contact an attorney for several different reasons. One of the most important reasons to have an attorney is the fact that employers tend to be more serious about a lawsuit when employees are being represented by attorneys with an excellent history of winning employment cases (like this office).

A good lawyer not only has excellent knowledge of the law, but also is also brilliant at negotiating. These traits come in handy to avoid going through a court trial and to achieve settlement easily. Contacting a lawyer is a win-win situation for an employee, and most employment attorneys are ready and willing to provide a free consultation. In addition, it is often seen that attorneys opt for cases on the basis of likelihood of wining, this means that the employee would not be required to pay out of their pocket.

If you questions or inquiries regarding California’s rules on rest breaks and lunch breaks, or any other employment related legal questions, you can reach out to our office and we will try our best to assist.