Meal & Rest Periods
One common issue for employers is compliance with California’s law regarding meal periods and rest periods. This issue, however, can turn into a very expensive problem. For example, let’s say a particular company employs five people at the California minimum wage of $8 per hour. If the Company fails to provide meal periods and rest periods to these five employees for just one year, it will be liable for at least $20,000 in back wages alone.
An employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing a meal period of not less-than 30 minutes. (Labor Code § 512(a)) The only exception to this rule is that, when an employee’s work day last no more than six hours, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee.
The bottom line is that employees are entitled to one thirty (30) minute duty-free meal period for every five (5) hours worked. If an employee works more than ten (10) hours per day, then he/she is entitled to a second meal period. If the employee’s work day is less than twelve (12) hours, then the second meal period may be waived by mutual consent.
An employer is not required to pay for a meal periods so long as the meal period is “duty-free”. For a meal period to be “duty-free” the employer cannot require that an employee perform any duties while on a meal break. (Madera POA v. City of Madera, 36 Cal.3d 403 (1984)) An “on-duty” meal period is only permitted only when two conditions are present: (1) the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duties and (2) the employee and employee mutually consent to on-the-job paid meal period. If an employer requires an employee to remain at the work site or facility during the meal period, the meal period must be compensated.
If an employer fails to provide a legally required meal period, the employer must pay the employee one (1) additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay per day. (Labor Code § 226.7) Since this “one additional hour of pay” is considered wages, a claim for failure to provide meal periods must be filed within three (3) years of the alleged meal period violation.
Employers are required to give each employee at least a ten (10) minute paid break for each four (4) hours worked (or major fraction of four (4) hours). An employee who works three and one-half (3 1/2) hours or less is not entitled to a rest period. Rest periods should be given to employees as near to the middle of the four (4) hours segment of time, as is practical.
If an employer fails to provide a rest period, the employer must pay the employee one (1) additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation for each workday that the rest period is not provided. (Labor Code § 226.7) Since this “one additional hour of pay” is considered wages, a claim for failure to provide rest periods must be filed within three (3) years of the alleged rest period violation.
Returning to our example of the company who fails to give rest and meal periods to its five minimum wage employees for a period of one year. The company would owe each employee $16/day for the failure to provide meal and rest periods. That comes to $80 per week or $4,160 for the year. Multiplied times five, the company would owe its five minimum wages employees $20,800 for failing to provide meal and rest period for one year.