When you were in school, you probably looked forward to lunch and recess more than any other part of the day. Even if you enjoyed your classes and your teachers, having a break at some point of the day gave you time to sit with your friends, refuel with some food and take a few minutes to relax.
The same is true for the workday. Even if you love your job, at some point, you may start to feel yourself getting irritable with customers and needing to step away from the counter, especially if you are working an eight or 10-hour shift. Fortunately, California law requires your employer to provide you with a break under certain circumstances. If you are unsure of the rules for employee meal breaks, you may be allowing your employer to deny you that right.
Understanding California’s meal break law
Not every state requires employers to schedule meal breaks for their workers, but many companies mandate it nonetheless. If you are a nonexempt worker in California – that is, an hourly worker who receives overtime for working more than 40 hours a week – your employer must allow you to take a break following these rules:
- You must take a 30-minute break if you work longer than five hours in a shift.
- Your break must begin before you finish your fourth hour of work.
- If you work longer than 10 hours in one shift, your employer must allow a second 30-minute break before your ninth hour of work ends.
- Your employer may not require you to remain on the premises while you are on your break unless you remain on the clock.
- An employer who requires you to remain on site must provide a separate and sheltered lunch area that supplies you with either meal options or the means to store and prepare your own food.
- Your boss may not require you to work during your unpaid break.
If your employer makes you sit at your desk to man the phone or answer emails, he or she is not incompliance with the law. If you clock out for your break but must return to the counter to assist customers or co-workers while you are still off the clock, this is a serious violation of the law. To understand more about your rights and learn how to pursue a fair resolution to wage and hour disputes with your employer, you can reach out to an employment law attorney.