Can your employer make you work through meal and rest breaks?

On Behalf of | Jan 27, 2021 | Employment law |

While eight-hour workdays can be taxing, meal breaks and rest periods may make them more bearable. Yet, your employer may sometimes make you work through them. Or, they may deny you your breaks altogether. You likely feel upset for losing out on your break time, yet you may consider it a minor issue in the grand scheme of things. Under California law, however, your employer’s actions are illegal.

Understanding California’s meal and rest break laws

If you are a non-exempt employee in California, your employer is required – by law – to give you one unpaid 30-minute meal break if you work more than five hours a day. You are also entitled to one paid 10-minute rest period for every four hours you work. If you work eight-hour shifts, then, your employer must allow you two rest periods.

During your meal breaks and rest periods, your employer cannot require you to be on-call. However, you can choose to waive your meal breaks – with your employer’s consent – if you work shifts of six hours or less.

The penalties for meal and rest break violations

By denying you meal breaks, rest periods or both, your employer could face penalties. If your employer makes you work through either, they must provide you with one extra hour of pay for each break you missed out on. If your employer fails to compensate you for your missed breaks, you may need to file a wage claim through the state’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. Alternatively, you can file a lawsuit against your employer. In either case, you must proceed with your legal action within California’s wage and hour statute of limitations. This is three years from the date the latest violation occurred.

If your employer routinely denies you your meal breaks and rest periods, you must hold them accountable. An employment law attorney can help you determine the appropriate course of action for doing so.