The opportunity to take a meal break lasting at least 30 minutes must be provided to all nonexempt California employees who work more than five hours in a day. During this time, the employer must relieve you of all work-related duties and allow you to leave the work site. The meal period must be provided before an employee completes their fifth hour of work. (This time is separate from paid rest periods.)
However, you can choose to waive your right to this unpaid period if you are working less than six hours, if both you and your employer agree to waive the break.
If you are working more than 10 hours in a given day, your employer must also allow you to take another, unpaid 30-minute meal break.
This right can only be waived if you did not waive the first meal break, are working less than 12 hours and both employer and employee mutually consent.
It’s important to note that although employers do need to allow and direct workers to take their meal breaks, they are not required to “police” these and make sure employees are not working through them.
Nevertheless, if you are not allowed to take a meal break on any given day, or if you were forced to continue working while eating, then you are owed one full hour of pay at your regular rate. You have up to three years to claim these “unpaid wages” if your employer does not comply with the law.
In some limited cases, if the nature of one’s job does not allow for them to be relieved all all work duties for a meal break, an employer and employee may agree to an “on-duty” meal break. This must be agreed to in writing, and these breaks must always be paid.
If your employer failed to provide you access to proper meal breaks or did not compensate you for working lunches, contact Lauby, Mankin & Lauby LLP for a no-cost consultation and our lawyers will fight for your legal rights as an employee. You can reach us online or call our toll free phone number at 888-959-8508.
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