Employers in California are required by state law to allow their nonexempt workers to take a rest break lasting 10 minutes after four hours of work and a meal break lasting 30 minutes during shifts of five hours or longer. Workers are entitled to be paid their usual hourly rate when they take rest breaks, but they are not usually entitled to compensation when they take meal breaks. Breaks should be scheduled during the middle of work shifts whenever possible. These employment laws do not apply to exempt workers, such as managers or administrative staff and medical and legal professionals.
Compensation in lieu of breaks
Employers can ask their workers to forgo their rest and meal breaks. If the workers agree, they are entitled to an additional hour of compensation at their normal hourly rate for each rest and meal break they do not take. Individuals who remain on call during meal breaks are also entitled to compensation. When a worker’s shift lasts for eight hours or longer, he or she is entitled to receive overtime pay that amounts to at least one and a half times their standard hourly rate for meal and rest breaks they do not take.
The consequences of noncompliance
The financial costs of ignoring these rules can be high. In November 2019, McDonald’s Corp. agreed to pay $26 million to settle a lawsuit filed by fast-food workers who accused the company of not paying them overtime and denying them meal and rest breaks. McDonald’s also agreed to no longer require workers to take rest breaks at the beginning of their shifts and allow them to leave restaurants during meal breaks.
Class action lawsuits
The litigation McDonald’s agreed to settle was a class action. This is not uncommon in wage and hour lawsuits as policies and practices that violate state employment laws often affect hundreds, or even thousands, of workers. However, joining a class action is not always prudent because in these cases, the damages awarded are divided equally among all the participants of the lawsuit. When workers are considering joining a class action, lawyers with experience in this area could study the facts of the case and advise them whether it is in their best interests to do so.