In a word: yes. If you're a nonexempt employee, California employment law requires your employer to provide you with uninterrupted meal and rest breaks.
If your employer has denied your right to meals and paid rest breaks, you could be owed significant meal and rest break wages. Keep in mind: these wages add up, especially if you were denied meal and rest breaks over the course of weeks or months -- or even years.
Whose meal and rest break rights are most often violated?
Violations of employees' meal and rest break rights could happen in any industry. But there are some kinds of employment that see more violations. For example, workers who are "on call" and have to use walkie-talkies for work are often denied their rightful meal and rest breaks. Why? Because work-related communications interrupt the breaks, or the employees are simply denied breaks. Examples of employees who use walkie-talkies and are often "on call" include:
- Ambulance drivers
- Security guards
- Hotel employees
- Entertainment industry workers
In other cases, employers mislead employees about their right to meal and rest breaks. If your employer has misled you about this, talk to a California employment law attorney, particularly one who handles wage and hour claims. You may be owed unpaid wages.
What are the rules?
Wage and hour law can be a complicated area of law if you're not an employment law attorney. But here are some basic things to understand about meal and paid rest breaks in California:
- A nonexempt employee in California must be provided with a paid 10-minute rest break for each four-hour period the employee works.
- The rest break must be free of all work-related duties.
- If your employer doesn't allow rest breaks, you're entitled to one additional full hour of pay for each day that your employer didn't provide you with a paid rest break.
- A nonexempt employee in California must be provided with a meal break of at least 30 minutes when the employee works more than five hours in a day.
- The 30-minute meal break must be given before the end of the fifth hour of work.
- The meal break must be completely free of all work duties.
- The employer must provide a second meal break of at least 30 minutes if the employee's work period extends beyond 10 hours.
Keep in mind that the meal break must be fully compliant with the law. If your employer makes you monitor a walkie-talkie on your break, or if your employer doesn't allow you to leave the premises, the break may not be compliant. For each day you are not provided with a fully compliant meal break, you are entitled to an additional hour of pay.
Want to learn more about California's wage and hour laws? We can help. GrahamHollis APC represents employees in industries throughout Southern California.