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Meal Breaks

Perhaps you are an employee who cannot remember the last time you were able to take a break and eat lunch. Or maybe your employer allows you to take a half-hour meal break, but still requires you to be on-duty. Or maybe your employer allows you to take a meal break, but forbids you from leaving the premises and there is no appropriate place to take a break and eat. If you have experienced any of the above scenarios, you might be surprised to know that you have rights. Save for certain exceptions, California law requires your employer to provide unpaid meal breaks—or pay you for your time.

What are the Rules Regarding Meal Breaks?

When an employee works for more than five hours, California law requires the employer to provide an unpaid half-hour meal break. But not just any break will do. An employer must:

  • Provide the first meal break by the end of the employee’s fifth hour of work;
  • Relieve the employee of all duties during the meal period, and refrain from interrupting the employee;
  • Refrain from discouraging or impeding the employee’s break;
  • Allow the employee to leave the premises during the break.

If the employer meets the above conditions, then the employer is not required to pay the employee for the meal break. But, if an employer does not meet each of the above conditions, then the employer must pay the employee for one additional hour of work at the employee’s regular pay rate for each workday that the employer fails to provide a proper meal period.

Similarly, when an employee works for more than ten hours, California law requires the employer to provide a second meal break. The employer must provide the second meal break by the end of the employee’s tenth hour of work.

Limited Conditions to Waive the Meal Break

In limited circumstances, an employer and employee may agree to waive the meal break requirement. An employee who works no more than six hours, may agree to waive the work period. And an employee who works no more than twelve hours, may agree to waive the second meal period, so long as the employee did not waive the first meal period.

Limited Conditions Permitting “On-Duty” Meal Breaks

In limited circumstances an employer can provide what is known as an “on-duty” meal break. An “on-duty” meal break allows the employer to require the employee to continue some work duties. Employers may only provide “on-duty” breaks if:

  • The nature of the employee’s work makes it impractical for the employee to leave all work duties;
  • The employer and employee mutually agreem to the “on-duty” break in writing, and the employee may revoke the agreement at any time;
  • The meal period is paid.
A California Meal Breaks Attorney can Help

Employers often deprive employees of their right to a meal break. If this has happened to you, then you might be confused about your options. The experienced Orange County attorneys at Nassiri Law Group know how to help you get your meal breaks or get compensation. Call (949) 375-4734 for a free consultation today.

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