Meal breaks are a critical part of a long workday. While many employers make an effort to ensure that their workers are happy and healthy, others may wrongfully deny employees the right to have uninterrupted time off the clock. However, after spending a few hours on the job, a meal break isn’t only refreshing — it’s required by California law.
If you’ve been deprived of the meal breaks to which you’re legally entitled, you may be owed compensation by your employer. At Optimum Employment Lawyers, we recognize that being mistreated at work isn’t just a legal issue. It’s also a personal one. We take pride in not only fighting for the justice our clients deserve, but also in making a difference for them.
California has strict labor laws that protect workers from being treated unfairly by their employers — whether they acted inadvertently or intentionally. Under California law, most non-exempt employees and certain exempt employees are entitled to at least one meal break, depending upon how many hours they’ve worked. Unfortunately, employers don’t always adhere to these laws, or they may try to get around them by encouraging workers to perform tasks while they’re “clocked-out” for lunch or dinner.
California law entitles employees to:
An exception may be made in some cases if an employee does not wish to take a meal break. Employees may be able to waive their right to an unpaid break as long as their employer agrees, and they work no more than six hours in a day. The second meal break may be waived on consent if the first break was taken, and no more than 12 hours were worked during the course of the workday.
It’s important to understand that during a break, your employer must relieve you of all work-related duties and tasks — and you should be free to come and go as you please. An employer is not permitted to discourage you from taking a meal break or impede you from doing so. In addition, you must be paid for any time your employer requires you to work, be on-call, or remain on-site during your meal break. To this extent, a violation may also trigger a claim for overtime pay if it resulted in your working more than eight hours in a day.
If your employer forced you to work during your meal break or created incentives for employees to skip their legally entitled meal breaks, they may be in violation of the law — and you might be eligible to recover your monetary damages. Optimum Employment Lawyers is committed to providing skillful counsel for workers who have suffered injustice due to the wrongful actions of their employers and achieving positive outcomes in their cases.
It’s essential to understand whether you qualify for the protection of California’s meal break law. While most non-exempt workers are protected by California’s meal break laws, they also apply to some exempt employees. For example, even though truck drivers and inside salespersons are generally considered exempt for the purposes of overtime pay, they must still be given meal breaks by law.
Additionally, the meal break laws don’t apply to certain unionized employees. Instead, workers who belong to unions in specific industries may be entitled to the protections offered to them by the collective bargaining agreement negotiated with the employer. Independent contractors are also exempt from the meal break requirements since they are not actually employed by the person or entity for whom they are performing the work. Critically, some employers may misclassify employees as independent contractors to avoid having to comply with California’s labor laws.
The nature of some employment may make taking an off-duty meal break very difficult, or it would not be possible to be relieved of all their work duties. In these cases, an employee may enter into a signed agreement with the employer and opt for an on-duty meal break at their regular rate of pay. To determine whether the type of employment would warrant an on-duty break, a variety of factors are considered, including the availability of other employees to provide relief and the potential consequences to the employer.
The meal break exemptions and exceptions are complex. A knowledgeable employment law attorney will be able to assess the facts of your specific case and advise you concerning your legal remedies. At Optimum Employment Lawyers, we take the time to carefully evaluate your meal break violation claim and will develop a solid strategy to help ensure you recover the compensation that was unfairly withheld from you.
Meal breaks are crucial for your wellbeing and can help to prevent burnout. They can also allow you to recharge and be more productive. If your employer required you to work through your break — or created a culture in your workplace that encouraged skipping lunch or dinner breaks — you may be able to receive monetary recovery.
Importantly, your employer may be obligated to compensate you with “premium pay” if they failed to provide a reasonable opportunity for you to take a meal break. On a separate note, “premium pay” also applies to any missed rest breaks. Premium pay is one additional hour of pay at your regular rate of compensation for each day there was a violation. If your employer doesn’t adequately compensate you, it may be necessary to pursue a claim against your employer. There is a three-year statute of limitations to bring a claim, from the date the meal break violation occurred.
Advocating tirelessly for each client, we know that your meal break violation claim isn’t just about a missed lunch break or the pay. It’s about holding your employer accountable for the harm they’ve caused you and preventing wrongdoing in the future. Optimum Employment Lawyers is committed to ensuring you receive the highest quality legal services — and the compensation to which you’re entitled.
Filing a claim for a meal break violation in California can be overwhelming. An experienced employment law attorney can guide you through the legal process and help you recover the pay you were denied by your employer. Offering straightforward advice and diligent preparation for every legal matter, Optimum Employment Lawyers represents clients throughout California for break violations and many other employment law disputes. Contact us at (949) 954-8181 to schedule a consultation.