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When do California employees get paid or unpaid meal breaks?

You may see that title and think, "What meal break?" If that's the case, then you may want to keep reading. It's possible that you should be getting a meal break but your employer is denying it.

Your employer may not understand California law regarding meal breaks or it may be counting on the fact that you don't. Either way, your employer may not be in compliance with the state's wage and hour laws.

How long do you have to be at work to get a meal break?

For every five hours you work, your employer should give you at least a 30-minute break. However, you and your employer may waive that period if your workday only consists of six hours. If you work 10 to 12 hours a day, you may receive a second meal break, which you may only waive if you use the first one.

If you work in the movie industry, your employer should give you a meal break of at least 30 minutes and no more than an hour for every six hours you work. If you work another six hours after your last break ended, then you get another meal break.

If you don't get a meal break on a particular day under these conditions, then your employer must pay you for one hour at your regular hourly rate. However, this time does not increase your hours worked per week for overtime purposes.

What if I am still "on duty" during my meal break?

If the nature of your work prevents you from being completely relieved of duty during your meal break, your employer must pay you for that time. The same applies if your employer stipulates that you may not leave the facility or work site during your meal break; your employer must pay you during that time even if you are truly not on duty at the time. Other rules apply to this restriction. For instance, your employer must provide a suitable place to take your meal break or make other accommodations, depending on the industry.

What can you do if your employer doesn't follow the rules?

You may file a wage claim if your employer fails to follow the rules regarding meal breaks. Of course, you may want to gain a better understanding of the definitions and rules that apply to your circumstances. Armed with an explanation of your rights and legal options, you may be able to rectify the situation and receive compensation for the time your employer failed to provide you with meal breaks or compensation for not giving you one. An employment law attorney can review your situation and, if necessary, take action on your behalf.

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