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Can your employer keep you on-call during meal breaks?

| Feb 22, 2021 | Wage & Hour Law

You have rights as an employee, and it’s important to know them so that your employer doesn’t take advantage of you. In fact, California has some of the strongest worker protection laws in the world. For example, your employer must provide you with a paid 10-minute rest break for each four-hour period you work, or major fraction thereof. There are also rules regarding whether workers can be on-call during meal and rest breaks.

On-call during breaks

In most cases, employers cannot require employees to stay on-call during breaks. There are exceptions, such as with certain emergency personnel and first responders. But, in general, this rule applies both to authorized 10-minute rest breaks and longer meal breaks, which generally must be at least 30 minutes long. During authorized meal and rest breaks, employees have the right to be free of all work-related tasks.

Some employers attempt to take advantage of employees by suggesting that the employee keep a walkie talkie on, answer the phone immediately if called, or stay on the job site. Nonetheless, most workers have the right to use their break time however they see fit.

Exempt employees

Some on-call employees may be exempt from these rules. For example, employers can require private-sector emergency responders to stay on-call. California Labor Code section 515 also states that the following types of workers may be exempt:

  • Executive employees
  • Certain administrative employees
  • Some professional employees

Determining whether your job is exempt can be tricky. The laws are complicated, and different standards apply, depending on a wide variety of job-related details. Unfortunately, some employers use the complex nature of the laws to exploit uninformed employees. If you suspect that your employer has violated your rights, you might benefit from contacting an experienced employment law attorney.

To learn more, please see our overview of Rights to Meal and Rest Breaks in California.