What Breaks Am I Entitled To?

California takes meal break and rest period requirements seriously. In 2019, Walmart lost a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of 5,000 workers at a fulfillment center in Chino. The award was $6 million for missed meal breaks.

Although federal law mandates no rest periods or meal breaks except for nursing mothers, California has specific statutes mandating both for non-exempt (hourly) employees as well.

If you feel your employer has been illegally denying you rest breaks, meal periods, or both, and you’re in the Stockton, Temecula, Costa Mesa, or Irvine areas of California, contact Robinson Bradford LLP. We will listen to your story, investigate, and help you exercise your rights not only to those guaranteed breaks, but also for penalties under the law owed to you for being denied them.

Federal Law on Meal and Rest Breaks

Federal law in the form of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require employers to offer their workers either meal or rest breaks. However, if an employer does offer rest breaks, federal law requires that the employee be paid for that time. When it comes to “bona fide” meal breaks, however, there is no federal requirement to pay the employee. Bona fide generally means a break of 30 minutes or more. The employer is not required to allow employees to leave the worksite during a meal break.

California Law on Meal and Rest Breaks

California, on the other hand, has definite rest and meal break statutes on the books. The Golden State requires employers to provide a 30-minute unpaid meal break once an employee has worked five hours. If an employee works 10 or more hours, he or she will be entitled to a second meal break, but can waive that one if the previous one was taken.

Employers must also allow employees to take a 10-minute break for every four hours, or major fraction thereof, worked. If practical, the break should come in the middle of the four hours. No break is required if the employee works three-and-a-half hours or less. Rest breaks must be compensated.

These rest and meal break laws apply only to non-exempt employees, who generally are paid by the hour. Exempt workers for whom these laws don’t apply are those employees who:

  • Spend more than half their time doing managerial, intellectual, or creative work,
  • Exercise independent judgment and discretion in performing their duties, and
  • Earn a monthly salary equal to at least twice the California minimum wage.

Collective bargaining agreements that contain their own meal and rest standards also fall outside the rules for non-exempt employees. People working in the motion picture industry and those working as security guards, among other professions, will often have contracts specifying how meals and rest periods are to be handled.

Break Time for Nursing Mothers

Federal law does mandate that employers provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for a nursing child for one year after the child’s birth. There is no limit to the number of times a nursing mother can take such a break. The break time need not be compensated unless it coincides with an already-available and paid break period.

The employer is also required to provide a place other than a bathroom for expressing milk, which must be secluded from the view of others and completely private so that no one can enter or interrupt.

Penalties Under California Law

The California Labor Code requires that an employer who “fails to provide a meal or rest or recovery period . . . shall pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation for each workday that the meal or rest or recovery period is not provided.”

The regular rate of compensation and its meaning came under review by the California Supreme Court, which ruled that it meant more than just the employee’s standard hourly wage. Instead, it must include considerations such as shift differentials and nondiscretionary bonuses, the same formula used for calculating overtime pay.

Trust the Skilled Experience of Robinson Bradford, LLP

Robinson Bradford LLP is dedicated to helping employers in wage-and-hour disputes exercise their rights to the compensation and benefits they are entitled to under the law. We have helped hundreds throughout the Stockton, Temecula, and Costa Mesa areas get the pay and perks they deserve under the law.

If you feel you’re being denied your rights to meal and rest breaks, contact us immediately for a free consultation.


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