Published On: Thu, Nov 30th, 2017

Understanding the Requirements for Meal and Rest Break Labor Laws in California

Even though the state of California enacted the meal and break laws in 2000, many employers still struggle to comprehend them. Some of the nagging questions were answered during the Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court case but there are a few things that tend to pop up now and then.

As such, it helps that employers to understand the specifics of the law to prevent possible rebuttable presumptions, especially when you can provide conflicting evidence.

photo/ Gerd Altmann

Read on to learn more.

Meal Breaks

According to labor laws, every employer must provide a 30-minute meal break to their employees. Typically, your workers can’t work for more than five hours without a meal break. You can’t hire a worker for a 10-hour job a day without giving them a break of not less than 30 minutes.

In this case, if you fail to provide your employees with a meal break, the law requires you to pay them one hour of pay for each day you didn’t give them a break. Your employment policies should explicitly state that every employee should have a 30-minute meal break. The break should also reflect on your work schedule.

With this policy in place, the issue is whether to force your employees to take the breaks. According to the Brinker case, the court concluded that it’s not the responsibility of the employer to force employees to take meals breaks. As such, employees can’t sue their employees for lack of meals breaks, which are provided but they fail to take them.

Depending on the number of the working hours, the first meal break should come at least after four hours of work. For example, those who start work at 8 a.m should have their meal break no later than 12:59 p.m.

Rest Breaks

The Section 12 of the California Wage Order states that all employers must permit all employees to take rest periods. The break should come in the middle of each work period, and it shall be paid. However, those employees who work for less than three and one-half hours are not legally eligible for rest periods.

Similar to meal breaks, it’s not the responsibility of the employer to force their employees to take the rest periods. With today’s clocking systems for work, it’s hard to tell if employers provide rest periods if employees fail to clock out or in. As such, employers need to ensure that their policies are affirmative about rest periods.

It also helps to maintain a record of all work schedules for the past three to four years as evidence that rest periods were provided to all employees. Keep in mind that California labor laws breaks doesn’t provide a specified time for rest periods. According to the Brinker case, employers should provide 10 minutes of rest for every three and one-half to six work hours, 20 minutes for six to 10 works hours and so on.

How to Meet the Requirements

To stay on top of the work break requirements and laws, make sure you have a policy that ensures the provision of both meal and rest breaks. Typically, in case of a class action, the first thing that the courts examine is your employment policy. Whenever you make a new hire, make sure you give each employee copies of the policy.

Having them sign the policy indicates that they read and acknowledged all the details of the policy. You should also have a timekeeping policy that requires all work periods and breaks to be recorded. This will make it feasible for you to identify any possible violations and handle them promptly.

The Takeaway

Failure to adhere to the labor laws in California can lead to class actions, which wreck your financial profile and reputation. Take the time to understand the labor requirements for meal and rest breaks, and also consult a legal professional on the best practices. Make sure to train your managers, supervisors, and employees on all the essential timekeeping aspects of the job.

Author: Joanna Stovic

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