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Complying With California Meal Break Laws

Posted by Alexa Rivera on May 9, 2022 11:04:54 AM
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California is known to be one of the more rigid states regarding a number of labor laws, specifically meal and rest break requirements. Complying with California meal break laws is essential to avoiding litigation as well as communicating the importance of breaks to nonexempt workers.

What exactly is the meal break protocol for California Law? 

An employee cannot work more than five hours without receiving an unpaid, off-duty meal period of a full 30 minutes. 

Sounds simple enough, but the rule comes with quite a few contingencies. For example, all duties must be relieved with absolutely no impediment or discouragement. There are very rare circumstances that allow for a paid, on-duty meal break, but it is wise to consult legal counsel before approving.  

Additionally, a second 30-minute meal break must be provided for employees working over 10 hours. The second meal break can be waived if the hours worked for the day do not exceed 12 hours, there is mutual consent from the employee and employer, and the first meal break was not waived.  


What about rest breaks?  

Daily work time exceeding 3.5 hours requires an uninterrupted rest break of 10 minutes. These rest periods must be treated as hours worked and paid for.  

The general rule is to give a 10-minute break in the middle of four-hour work periods. For example, an eight-hour workday would result in a 30-minute lunch break in the middle of the day and two 10-minute work breaks (mid-morning and mid-afternoon) between lunch. Employers in specific industries or those seeking an exception should proceed with caution to avoid breaching employee law regarding California meal breaks. 


What Happens if I Break the California Meal Break Law? 

Failing to comply with California Meal Break laws can be detrimental to an organization’s bottom line.  The maximum penalty for missed meal breaks and missed rest breaks is two hours of pay per day, no matter how many meal or rest breaks were missed in the day. The kicker, employees are eligible to file for up to three years of damages.



The Solution  

There are a number of ways to negate the consequences of a missed meal or rest breaks. One solution is to ensure all staff are aware of the policy and free to break when necessary to comply with California break laws. As an employer, it is important to never make deadlines so tight that a break cannot be taken when necessary and to never pressure your employees to work through their entitled break times. 

There are a few other best practices that California employers should consider:

  • Have a well-written HR handbook that includes a meal and rest break policy that is location and California-specific. Make sure that employees acknowledge that they have read and understand the handbook.
  • Schedule and require all exempt employees to take every meal and rest break that they are entitled to.
  • Train supervisors regarding the importance of meal and rest breaks.
  • Immediately pay meal or rest break penalties whenever they occur.
  • Alert employees of meal and rest breaks.
  • Do not allow employees to return from a meal or rest break early.
  • Require the non-exempt employee to “sign-off” or “attest” to their hours and breaks at the end of every shift.

A great time and labor solution like PeopleGuru is essential nowadays-- especially for employers who do business in California.

PeopleGuru can be uniquely configured to your organization’s needs. 

PeopleGuru can be used to ensure that: all meal and rest breaks are scheduled and fully taken, break penalties are paid in the rare instances when they occur, and every non-exempt employee attests to the accuracy of their time and breaks at the end of every shift. 


Have other questions for us?

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This blog post was written by Alexa Rivera and may not be copied or published without PeopleGuru's express written consent. 


Topics: Compliance, California meal break laws

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