Compared to the rest of the U.S., California has some very employee-friendly laws. Unfortunately, a lot of workers do not know their rights, including those that cover meal and rest breaks.
Most blue-collar workers are nonexempt employees, meaning that they can get paid overtime and an employer must provide them with a certain number of meal and rest breaks during their shifts. Though federal law does not have specific requirements for the provision of meal or rest breaks, California law has extremely strict requirements for employers to follow.
Some employers may wrongfully classify their employee as “exempt” to avoid paying them overtime or providing them with breaks. However, a worker’s job title does not dictate whether that person is nonexempt. Employees with the title of “manager” are often likely to be entitled to breaks, notwithstanding their role.
Employers are required to provide employees with one 30-minute unpaid meal break for every five hours of work, and the meal breaks must be taken before the end of the fifth and tenth hours of work for a first and second meal break. Employers should not automatically deduct lunch break time from an employee’s paystub, as this can easily result in employees being underpaid if they miss a meal break or take a short meal break. Moreover, employers are required to keep accurate time records for their employees. These should show start and end times as well as meal break times.
If an employee is prevented from taking a meal break, that employee would be entitled to a “premium” payment. Employees are also entitled to rest break premiums if their employers interrupt or do not provide or their rest breaks. By consulting with an employment law attorney, a worker could determine whether an employer is committing wage and hour violations.