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What are California workers' rights when it comes to meal breaks?

While there are many reasons that employees may sue their employers, one common reason they file lawsuits against them is over their handling of overtime, lunch and breaks. Even though it's the responsibility of an employer to communicate California's laws regarding these to the workers, they often don't. Employees often have their rights violated because of ignorance to them.

As current California law stands, any employee that works at least five hours must be provided with at least a 30-minute break during which he or she is not expected to perform work.

Under state law, an employer is deemed to have provided that break so long as it occurred before the end of the worker's fifth hour that he or she worked.

An employer is required to have not purposefully made an attempt to interrupt the break or tried to discourage or impede the employee from taking it.

If the aforementioned conditions are not met, then an employer cannot lawfully allow the employee to go without pay for the meal break.

California law also allows for any worker scheduled to work a shift of six hours or less to come to a mutual agreement with his or her employer to not take a meal break at all.

State law requires any worker who is scheduled to work longer than 10 hours during a single day to be given two different meal breaks in a day. The second must be given no later than the tenth hour that he or she works.

Employees are eligible to waive their right to a second meal in certain circumstances. If a worker is scheduled for 12 hours or less and has already taken his or her first 30-minute break, then he or she can mutually agree with his or her employer to waive the second one.

A worker can only be required to continue working during a meal break in select situations and must be compensated for doing so.

Employers may lawfully ask their employees to do this if the individual works in a position that prevents him or her from being relieved of his or her duties. If a worker does this, then he or she must sign an agreement with his or her employer or otherwise it may been deemed unlawful.

If your employer hasn't offered you state-mandated meal breaks, then a Long Beach wage and hour law attorney can advise you of your rights.

Source: The California Chamber of Commerce, "Meal & rest breaks in California," accessed June 15, 2018

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