Am I Allowed to Take Breaks at Work?

Employment Attorney Explains Laws for Meal and Rest Periods

Over two years ago, we posted a newsletter on the controversy over meal and rest periods in California. A current notable case causes us to explore meal break and rest period labor law once more.

Recently, a company known as SpaceX, chosen by NASA to help ferry crew and staff to and from the International Space Station, was sued for allegedly violating California employment law on several counts. These suspected violations include the following:

  • Scheduling workers so that they could not make full use of their meal breaks and rest periods
  • Rounding timesheets to the closest 15-minute increment
  • Possible denial of cumulative wages and overtime pay for an employee
  • Not reimbursing employees who purchased their own tools for company work

What are the Laws for Meal Breaks in California?

California labor law includes the following rules regarding breaks for employees:

  • Employers must offer at least a 30-minute long meal break to most non-exempt employees, regardless if they are paid hourly or by salary, if they work a shift lasting between five and ten hours.
  • It is illegal for an employer to deny this time off, unless it is the sincere wish of the employee to skip the meal break.
  • If any employee works over 10 hours, then the worker is entitled to at least another 30-minute meal break.
  • Employers must schedule lunch breaks in such a way that the employee is free from all work duties.
  • Employers cannot impede someone who wants to take their meal break; however, an employee can choose to continue working, but the employee must be paid overtime if they volunteer to do so.
  • 10-minute rest breaks must be given for every four hours worked.

There are a few exceptions to these rules, as some jobs do not allow duties to be passed on to another employee. For instance, a 24-hour convenience store might have only three employees to cover three shifts. In this instance, the employee would take a paid lunch while working.

My Boss is Denying Meal and Rest Breaks – What Can I Do?

An employer must pay an employee a full hour’s wage for each time a meal break or a rest break is missed. Additionally, as is suspected in the case with SpaceX, if an employer willfully denies breaks to an employee, they can be taken to court. A lawsuit can recover compensation for unpaid or denied wages that you should have received.

Contact our office to speak with a Los Angeles labor and employment lawyer. We use our experience and qualifications to protect the rights of all California workers.