Understanding your rights to meal and rest breaks

| Jan 16, 2020 | Uncategorized |

While everyone has days where they have plenty of energy and could work the whole day without taking any breaks, the majority of the time, you need your meal and rest breaks in order to get through your day. Even if your job isn’t physically demanding, you will probably get hungry and have times when you need to step away from your work.

The problem is that your boss doesn’t seem to be forthcoming with how your meal and rest breaks work. This may be a tactic to get you to work through them. If you know your rights when it comes to this issue, then you can take control over your day and get the breaks to which you are entitled under California law. You will also know when your boss can require you to work through a break since there are times when doing so does not violate your rights.

Let’s look at rest breaks first

For every four hours of work, the law allows you to take a 10-minute uninterrupted break. So, if you work an eight-hour day, you get one break in the first four hours and one in the second four hours. That is the simple explanation. Now, for the more complex version:

  • You only have to work a “major fraction” of the four hours to get a break. The courts consider as little as two hours to be a major fraction.
  • Your employer may postpone your first break if current working conditions are not conducive to taking a break. For example, if you are in the middle of a complicated task and stopping would be detrimental to completing it, you may put off your break until later.
  • Payment for these breaks is a requirement.

If your boss fails to provide you with your lawful breaks, your employer owes you one hour of pay as compensation. Of course, no two situations are the same, so it would be a good idea to review the circumstances in order to determine whether a violation actually occurred.

Now, let’s look at meal breaks

Meal breaks are a bit more complicated. The simple version is that the law allows you to take a 30-minute meal break before you work five hours. The following rules apply during your meal break:

  • Your employer must relinquish control over your activities.
  • You should not have to perform any duties.
  • Your employer cannot impede your right to this break or try to convince you not to take it.
  • Your employer must provide you with the opportunity to take this break.

If the above conditions are satisfied, your employer does not have to pay you during this off-duty time. If you work at least 10 hours a day, you may take a second uninterrupted 30-minute meal break before you reach that 10th hour of work. Under certain circumstances, you can waive this second break. If your employer denies you a meal break, the company owes you one hour of pay.

Your employer can require you to work during your 30-minute meal break if the nature of your job duties prevents it, you and your employer agree to this in writing and your employer pays you for this time. Under certain circumstances, you can revoke your agreement.

How do you know if a violation occurred?

Sometimes, it’s obvious that your employer denied you lawful rest and meal breaks, but other times, it’s not as clear. To know for sure, you may want to discuss your situation with an employment law attorney who can also advise you of your rights and legal options.


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