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Your Rights to Breaks as In-Office Work Resumes

Updated: Jun 5

As the workers of California begin to return to the workplace, it is clear that many things aren’t quite the same as they were before. The open office plan may be a thing of the past. Both full and part-time remote work might become par for the course. But what has not changed is your right to meal and rest breaks. There are several laws in California that ensure your employer must offer these breaks, or face serious penalties. Your employer may be operating a business in a different world, but your rights remain. It is prudent to familiarize yourself with your rights in the case that your employer claims that the new way of operating changes your break schedule.

Meal Break Laws

Under California wage and hour law, non-exempt employees who work more than five hours a day must receive at least one uninterrupted 30-minute meal break.

  • Fewer than 5 hours of work: no meal break

  • Between 5 and 10 hours work: one 30 minute meal break

  • Between 10 and 15 hours work: two non-consecutive 30-minute meal breaks

  • Between 15 and 20 hours work: three non-consecutive 30-minute meal breaks

  • Beyond 20 hours work: four non-consecutive 30-minute meal breaks

Employees working longer days can waive any meal break beyond the first, provided it is documented in writing. Employers are required to provide opportunities to allow employees to take the required breaks.

Rest Break Laws

California law also requires employers to give their non-exempt employees 10-minute rest breaks during the day.

  • Fewer than 3.5 hours work: no rest break

  • Between 3.5 and 6 hours work: one 10 minute rest break

  • Between 6 and 10 hours work: two non-consecutive 10-minute rest breaks

  • Beyond 10 hours work: three non-consecutive 10-minute rest breaks

These rest breaks are to be paid at the employee’s hourly rate. Employees are allowed to skip rest breaks should they so choose, again, it is simply the responsibility of the employer to provide them as an option.

When You Are On Break, You Are On a Break

Your breaks should be your own. Unless confirmed in writing to the contrary, employers are not allowed to ask employees for on-duty meals, nor are they to ask for on-site breaks. For those positions that have been confirmed in writing to be on-call during a break, their meal break must be paid. Further, your boss cannot cancel your meal break or ask you to return to work earlier than your allotted 30 minutes. This is legally equivalent to denying a meal break and is a violation of labor laws.

Several industries may be considered exempt from rules surrounding meal breaks, such as construction, commercial driving, security, gas or electric repair, film, and other industries. All other employers are subject to California labor laws regarding meal and rest breaks. If an employer denies any of these breaks and becomes subject to a wage and hour class action lawsuit, they will be held responsible for one hour’s pay per break denied.

Are you concerned that your employer is violating your break rights? Do you think you are misclassified as an exempt employee? Contact Gomerman | Bourn & Associates at 415-545-8608 to speak with an attorney.

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