Failure to provide adequate meal and rest periods are one of biggest areas of employment disputes. California has strict meal and break laws, perhaps some of the strictest in the country.

California employers must provide employees who work more than 5 hours in a day a 30 minute unpaid lunch break, which must occur no later than the 5th hour of work. However, employers often break the rules by interrupting an employee. The employer must pay the employee during the break if they interrupt the break by doing any one of the following:

  1. Fail to relieve the employee of all duties,
  2. Fail to give employees free control of their activities,
  3. Impede the employee from taking an uninterrupted the break.

Additionally, if an employee is only working 6 hours they may waive their right to a meal break.

Employees who work long hours in a day may also be entitled to a second meal break. When an employee works for more than 10 hours a day they must receive a meal break no later than the 10th hour of work. Although, like with the first meal break, an employee can waive the second meal break if:

  1. The employee took the first meal break,
  2. The employee is working 12 hours or less, and
  3. Both the employer and employee consent

Also keep in mind that in some situations an employee can take an on duty meal break, if the nature of their work prevents them from being completely relieved of duty.

When employers fail to provide an uninterrupted 30 minute meal break period employers must pay them compensation for an entire hour of work. Although if an employee is given a break the employer is under no duty to ensure that the employee actually takes the break. However, the line between providing breaks and having unofficial policies that discourage breaks is thin. It is best to contact an attorney in these situations to find out if your employer is subtly impeding you ability to take a break.

Employees generally have 3 years to file claims for unpaid wages, although special circumstances may apply. Because claims can be barred after a certain amount of time it is critical that you take action quickly if you think your employer has failed to provide you with proper meal or rest breaks.

The California employment law attorneys of the Law Offices of Michael S. Cunningham, LLP have many years of experience handling wage and hour cases, including lawsuits for unpaid wages due to failure to provide proper breaks. To schedule a free case evaluation contact us at (951) 213-4786 today.

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