At one time or another, almost everyone has experienced the uncomfortable feeling in your stomach and the sometimes obnoxiously loud growling that occurs when they simply have too much work and are forced to work through their meal break. More often than not, employees simply push through their work day thinking that they will be able to grab lunch in 30 minutes, or perhaps just another hour. More often than not, this hour turns into two or three hours and pretty soon it’s time to go home. There just wasn’t enough time in the day for a lunch break.
Unpaid Meal Breaks Are Illegal in California
While missed meal breaks are a fact of life sometimes, what many employees don’t know is that they are actually entitled to extra compensation for having to work under conditions that are considered outside of the norm, so to speak, for workers in California, i.e., having to work through your hunger pains while maintaining the same level of concentration required of you had you been able to grab a bite to eat. Although the employee is being paid (or should be paid) for the work performed during a lunch break, he or she has lost the right to use that time as their own. The same thing is true for missed rest periods as the California Supreme Court noted:
“If denied two paid rest periods in an eight-hour work day, an employee essentially performs 20 minutes of “free” work, i.e., the employee receives the same amount of compensation for working through the rest periods that the employee would have received had he or she been permitted to take the rest periods. An employee forced to forgo his or her meal period similarly loses a benefit … While the employee is paid for the 30 minutes of work, the employee has been deprived of the right to be free of the employer’s control during the meal period.” – (Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. (2007) 40 Cal.4th 1094, 1104.)
Because employees who miss meal and rest breaks are being deprived of those basic rights afforded to other workers, California law requires that they receive extra compensation in the form of a “premium wage” each time they are forced to forgo a break. (Labor Code § 226.7(c).) This even applies when employees are forced to take their meal breaks late, such as after the sixth straight consecutive hour of employment in any given 24-hour period, or after the eleventh hour if working twelve hour shifts. (See Labor Code § 510.)
This means that anytime you are unable to take a meal break because you simply have too much work to finish before you leave for the day, or your boss tells you to wait until your customers leave and you’ve been on the clock for more than six hours, you are entitled to receive an extra hour of pay at your regular rate, typically, your hourly rate of pay.
“[P]remium wages are intended to compensate employees and shape employer conduct.” – (Murphy, supra, 40 Cal.4th at pp. 1110-1111.)
Get Paid for Missed Meal Breaks
While the payment of an extra hour’s “premium wage” for missed meal and rest breaks is the law in California, it is often ignored by employers. If this is something that you have experienced, you may be entitled to extra compensation for your missed breaks so take action now and schedule a free consultation with an experienced Employment Law Attorney at Lauby, Mankin & Lauby, LLP. We have been successfully litigating meal and rest break violations for years, recovering thousands of dollars’ worth of unpaid premium wages on behalf of California employees in all sectors of employment.