Is my employer required to offer a meal break?

Yes. California mandates that employers offer nonexempt workers a 30-minute uninterrupted meal break if they work a five-hour or longer shift. If a shift is less than six hours and both parties agree, the meal break can be waived.

Also, employees must receive a second 30-minute uninterrupted meal period if they work more than 10 hours a day. The second respite can be waived with both the employee’s and employer’s approval as long as the worker took the first break. No waivers are allowed for those whose shifts total 12 hours or more.

Unpaid breaks must not include any work requirements

Under California law, employers don’t have to pay nonexempt workers for meal breaks, providing they follow these rules:

  • They do not discourage or interfere with the worker’s rights to a lunch break
  • They do not attempt to control the worker’s activities
  • Employees must be free from any work obligations for the entire 30-minute break
  • Employers must give employees a “reasonable” opportunity for an uninterrupted meal

Employers must pay workers for their time when violations occur. Those whose jobs prevent them from receiving these considerations must be deemed “on-duty” and paid accordingly. Some exceptions to this rule exist for health care workers.

Which workers are eligible under the state’s lunch break law?

In most cases, nonexempt employees who qualify for overtime or minimum wage are eligible for unpaid or paid meal breaks. Exempt workers do not qualify for paid lunch breaks. However, they must still receive 30-minute uninterrupted breaks as long as they work at least five hours.

Union workers, such as those in the motion picture industry, are typically not covered as collective bargaining agreements dictate the length and timing of their breaks. And, meal requirements do not apply to those legally classified as independent contractors.

What can I do if a violation occurs?

Failing to offer meal breaks or follow the California Labor Code is one way companies violate state labor laws. When this happens, workers are entitled to receive meal period premium pay – equal to one hour at their regular rate.

This premium pay must be added to their actual time worked, which can result in overtime pay if the employee logs more than 40 hours in a week. Employers who fail or refuse to pay this compensation can be targeted in a wage and hour claim.