Taking regular breaks from work has been proven to increase productivity, improve creativity, and reduce stress. Every employee should be given the opportunity to reap the rewards of taking breaks, but unfortunately, some employers do not allow their employees to take regular breaks.

As an employee in the state of California, it’s important to understand when you are entitled to breaks so you can hold your employer accountable. Here’s what you should know about meal and rest breaks in California:

What Are the Rest Break Laws in California?

A rest break is a ten-minute break that is provided to non-exempt employees in the state of California. However, these breaks are only given to non-exempt employees who work over 3.5 consecutive hours. Non-exempt employees who work between 3.5-6 hours are entitled to one, ten-minute rest break. These employees earn a second rest break once they work over six consecutive hours and a third rest break if they work over 10 hours.

Employers must comply with this law by providing rest breaks to eligible employees, however employees can choose whether or not to take their breaks. Their employer should never suggest skipping a break or pressure them to not to take their break–the decision to skip a break must be made on their own. If an employee decides to take a rest break, the employer must pay them for the 10 minutes they are not actually working.

These breaks should ideally be taken in the middle of the employee’s shift. But, this is not always possible. If providing an employee with a rest break in the middle of their shift is not reasonable, it’s perfectly legal for the employer to push it back or move it forward as long as it is still provided.

What Are the Meal Break Laws in California?

A rest break is supposed to give employees a few minutes to clear their head and catch their breath, but a meal break is a longer break that gives employees time to eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Most meal breaks are 30 minutes, however employers are allowed to provide longer breaks to their employees if they’d like.

Unlike rest breaks, meal breaks are unpaid. However, the employer must pay the employee for their meal break if they are not relieved of their job duties during this time. For example, if an employer asks a secretary to stay at their desk during their meal break so they can continue to answer the phone, the secretary should be paid for this time.

The number of meal breaks that employees are entitled to will vary depending on the number of hours worked. Employers are not legally obligated to provide meal breaks to employees who work less than five consecutive hours. If an eligible employee works more than five hours straight, they are entitled to one 30-minute meal break. These employees earn a second meal break if they work over 10 hours straight.

The law also specifies when these breaks must be taken. In California, the law states that an employee’s meal break must be taken before they complete their fifth hour of consecutive work. If an employee has earned a second meal break, it must be taken before the employee completes their tenth hour of work.

Employees are allowed to skip rest breaks, but they are not always allowed to skip meal breaks. Employees who work less than six hours can skip a meal break, but both the employee and the employer must give their consent. Anyone who is entitled to a meal break and works over six hours cannot skip their meal break, regardless of whether they want to or not.

How Are Employers Penalized For Violating These Laws?

Employers must comply with all of the labor laws in California. In fact, employers will face consequences for failing to comply with these break laws. If an eligible employee is denied a meal or rest break, their employer must compensate them with an extra hour of pay at their regular rate. For example, if an employee works 8 hours and is denied one meal break, the employee will be compensated for 9 hours of work total.

But, there is a limit on how many extra hours an employee can be compensated for on a daily basis. The law states that an employee can only earn one additional hour of pay for missed rest breaks per workday and one additional hour of pay for missed meal breaks for workday. This means if an employee has been denied two rest breaks and two meal breaks, they will be paid for one extra hour of work for their missed rest breaks, and another hour of work for their missed meal breaks. They cannot be paid one additional hour per break.

When to Take Legal Action Against Your Employer

Before taking legal action, employees who have been denied their breaks should attempt to resolve this issue with their employer. Sometimes, the employer will immediately admit to their mistakes when confronted. But, many employers are not willing to resolve these disputes with their employees. When this happens, it’s important to seek legal representation from an attorney.

An employment law attorney will either recommend filing a wage claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) or a lawsuit against your employer. To determine which option is best, your attorney will need to learn the details of your complaint.

Are your rights to meal and rest breaks being violated? If so, seek legal representation as soon as possible. The experienced employment law attorneys at Shegerian & Associates are ready to hold your employer accountable and seek justice on your behalf. Contact us today to discuss your case by calling 1-800-GOT-FIRED.