One of the benefits to living and working in our state is that we are blessed with robust worker protections, over and above those afforded to the rest of the country by the federal government.
One such protection is that you have the right to meal and rest breaks during your working hours, and violating this mandate is known as a meal and rest violation.
What are the meal and rest break rules?
According to the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, you are entitled to at least a 30-minute meal break for every 5 hours you work. This can be either unpaid or paid, and it must be provided no later than the end of that fifth hour of work. Your second meal break must be taken no later than the tenth hour of work.
Are meal breaks waivable?
If you are only working 6 hours though, you can waive this 30-minute meal break. However, both you and your employer must agree to waiving this meal break. Your second meal break can also be similarly waived if you are working 12 hours, but only if your first meal break was not already waived.
What can happen during the breaks?
During your meal break, you cannot be assigned any work duties, and your break must be completely uninterrupted. Your employer also cannot impede you from taking your break or discourage you from taking it.
The employer does not have to force you to take the meal break, they need only provide you with a reasonable opportunity for you to take the meal break.
What about rest breaks?
Rest breaks are separate from meal breaks. These are 10-minute rests that must be provided every four hours of work, and the break should be taken as close to the middle of the four-hour block as possible. Like the meal break, this break must be completely free of work.
Are there any consequences?
Meal and rest violations have consequences. You are entitled to an additional hour of pay at your regular rate of pay for every day a violation occurred. This is in addition to any other overtime pay or other wages you are entitled to be paid.
For example, if you were forced to work eight hours straight without any breaks, you would be entitled to 1 hour for the missed meal break, another hour for your first missed rest break and another hour for your second missed rest break. This means you would be entitled to 11 hours of regular time. And, you would have three years to file with the DLSE or file your lawsuit for your owed wages.