Navigating state and federal regulations pertaining to employee meal breaks and rest periods can be a challenge, but the experienced employment law attorneys of Bellatrix PC are here to help your business succeed. Whether you need a comprehensive review of your company’s current or proposed policies, or your business is facing a lawsuit for alleged violations, our legal team is committed to balancing aggressive and cost-effective client advocacy with strict compliance with the law.

To begin discussing your situation in a private consultation, call Bellatrix PC at (800) 449-8992 today.

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Can an Employee Waive a Meal Period in California?

Generally speaking, California employers must provide employees with meal periods of not less than 30 minutes for a work period of more than five hours per day.  If the work day is shorter than six hours, that meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employee and employer.  In the event you and your employee do agree to waive the period, you should put that agreement in writing.  A second 30-minute meal period must be provided if an employee works more than 10 hours per day, although this second period can also be waived by mutual consent, provided that the total workday is not longer than 12 hours, and the first meal period has not been waived.

The employee must be relieved of all work duties during their 30-minute meal period, or else the meal period counts as “on duty” time.  An “on duty” meal period, where an employee is not relieved of all work duties during the period, may only occur when the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duties during the meal period, and there is written mutual consent of the employee and employer.

Most jobs do not support these “on duty” meal periods.  The written consent agreement to waive a meal period must state that the employee is able to revoke their consent unilaterally at any time.

Rest Break Laws for Employers: Liability for Violations

Restricting where employees may take their meal breaks can work against the employer financially. If the employer requires an employee to remain at the work site during their meal period, then the employer must also pay the employee during the meal period — even if the employee is relieved of all duties during the break.

The meal break is designed to come every five hours.  Employers are not allowed to make an end run around these regulations by having their employees take the break at the front end or back end of a seven-hour shift.  Employers must also permit non-exempt employees to take 10-minute rest periods every four hours.

Payment for meal breaks are considered wages, and are subject to a three-year statute of limitations for wages.  An employer exposes him- or herself to serious liability in failing to provide meal and rest breaks to their employees.  For example, if you fail to provide meal periods to your employees, you may be subject to paying one additional hour of pay at the employee’s normal rate of pay for each workday the employee was denied the meal period.  Additional penalties may also be assessed.  If you deny meal and rest breaks to a group of employees, you could face a class action potentially leading to significant monetary consequences.

While the meal and rest breaks laws seem like very simple California labor laws to follow, ensuring total employee compliance is not.  Many employees will say, “I don’t need a 10-minute break,” or, “I’d rather just work through lunch and leave earlier,” or, “I’m too busy to take a break.”  While such statements may sound reasonable on the surface, failing to require your employees to take these breaks can expose your company to a rest period dispute, or even a DSLE investigation.

Put our Employment Attorneys to Work for Your Business

An experienced commercial lawyer from Bellatrix PC can handle all of your business’ day-to-day legal needs, including matters pertaining to meal periods and rest breaks.  By establishing an ongoing relationship with our firm, we can act as an outsourced general counsel for all of your company’s legal questions and regulatory concerns.  We will sit down with your team and review both business plans and operations in order to ensure compliance with California labor laws.

Our business attorneys will:

  • Provide your team immediate and continuing education about California labor laws and regulations.
  • Update employee handbooks, detailing the length of mandatory breaks and when they should be taken.
  • Train supervisors and management to schedule breaks properly and ensure that subordinates comply with all relevant labor regulations.
  • Establish a tracking system that records or makes certain that non-exempt employees are taking their mandatory meal and rest breaks as required by law.

If you need additional information or assistance in reviewing your policies to ensure compliance with California Labor Code provisions and regulations, or if a former employee files a meal and/or rest period lawsuit against your business, our team is prepared to provide dedicated legal support.  Contact us online or call Bellatrix PC at (800) 449-8992 to schedule a confidential consultation.  Ask about our Business Risk Review to resolve simmering issues before they explode, taking your business with them.

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