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California law dictates employee breaks

The Department of Industrial Relations in the state of California requires that employers grant employees one or more breaks throughout the day based on the amount of time an individual works. The state also dictates what employees can and cannot do during meal breaks.

Every employee who works between five and six hours in a shift must receive a meal break of at least 30 minutes, and those who work between 10 and 12 hours must receive two meal breaks of 30 minutes or longer. The only way an employer can deny a break is the employee works less than six hours and both parties agree that a break is not needed.

While on a meal break, an employee cannot do any type of work. If the employer requires that an employee do any type of work, including helping a customer or finishing a report, the employer must pay that worker for the total amount of the break at the individual's normal rate of pay. During overnight shifts, employers must also provide workers with access to meal facilities and a place to eat those meals. The state also requires that if an employer requires that employees eat and take breaks on-site that those employers provide a place for workers to eat.

Employees who were denied breaks that they should receive under law might choose to speak with an attorney or contact state authorities. If an employer fails to follow wage and hour law, employees may be able to pursue compensation for those losses. Those who have questions or concerns about the meal breaks employers allow and do not allow may find help from an attorney.

Source: State of California, "Meal periods", January 04, 2015

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