Under California law, employees have specific rights concerning meal breaks and rest breaks. Many employees don’t understand these rights, and some employers take advantage of that. One way this happens is by requiring workers to respond to phone or walkie-talkie communications during breaks.
Portable communication devices and wage violations
Many employers require employees to use phones, radios or walkie-talkies to communicate with the office, coworkers or management. This is a convenient way to receive important information immediately, but the use of communication devices during breaks could mean an employee is owed significant compensation for that time. Under California employment law, a worker who is on a meal break or a paid rest break does not have a legal obligation to answer their phone to take a call from their employer. The same right applies to workers who work remotely or use walkie-talkies one the job.
Uninterrupted meal and rest breaks
A text message or phone call to an employee taking their meal or paid rest break may violate employment laws. When an employee stops their lunch to respond or answer a work-related call, it interrupts the break. According to the law, the break must not have any interruptions by work-related duties. This means an employer cannot compel an employee to answer their phone, respond on a walkie-talkie or respond to a text message related to work. If the break is interrupted by such communications, the employee may be owed compensation for that missed break.
California law requires employers to provide wage compensation if an employee does not receive a fully compliant meal or rest break. In fact, the California Supreme Court recently ruled on this matter, deciding that missed meal and rest breaks are wages that must be paid. Keep this in mind the next time you answer that call from your boss while on lunch.
To learn more, please see our overview of the rules for meal and rest breaks in California.