California offers employees some of the best worker protections in the country. Unfortunately, many employers are not familiar with all of their legal obligations, particularly when it comes to wage and hour law. For instance, though most people know that employees in California are entitled to a 30-minute meal break, many employers – and employees – do not know how often those breaks need to be taken or when they have to be taken.
Employees are entitled to at least one 30-minute uninterrupted meal break on shifts over five hours long, but they can waive their right to take those meal breaks if their shifts do not exceed six hours. These 30-minute meal breaks must be taken before the employee completes five hours of work. Employers are required to give employees a 30-minute meal break for every five hours of work, meaning that an employee who works over 10 hours would be entitled to two 30-minute meal breaks. An employee who works fewer than 12 hours in one day can waive one of the two 30-minute meal breaks but not both.
Employers are not required to pay employees for meal breaks, but they are required to provide paid rest breaks. Employees are entitled to one rest break for every four hours worked “or major fraction thereof,” meaning an employee who works over six hours would be entitled to two breaks. Employees who work shifts of at least 3.5 hours are entitled to at least one break.
Employers may not require employees to combine their meal breaks or to combine their meal breaks with their rest breaks. Thus, an employer may not satisfy his obligation to provide, say, two 10-minute rest breaks and one 30-minute meal break by providing one 50-minute break. If an employee is pressured not to take a break or is regularly prevented from taking a break, it may be a good idea to consult with an employment law attorney.