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Can I Sue My Employer for Violating Meal and Rest Break Laws?

Research shows that over 90% of workers in North America feel that taking meal breaks helps them feel refreshed and prepared to return to work. Apart from helping workers destress and recharge for the rest of the workday, meal and rest breaks also improve overall job satisfaction.

While federal law does not require employers to provide break periods, several states, including California, have separate guidelines for meal and rest breaks. Just recently, the California Supreme Court revisited the methodology for calculating meal and rest break premiums for non-exempt workers.

Non-exempt employees include “persons employed in professional, clerical, technical, mechanical, and similar occupations whether compensated on a commission, time, piece rate, or other bases.” They are protected by federal and California labor laws and are entitled to minimum wage, required rest periods, and meal breaks.

California meal break requirements

  • Under Labor Code 512, employees who work five hours a day must be given an unpaid meal break of at least 30 minutes.
  • Employees who are working more than 10 hours a day are also eligible for a second 30-minute meal break.
  • A meal break may be waived provided that the employee doesn’t work more than 6 hours in a shift.
  • Workers are allowed to spend meal breaks outside of work premises.

California rest break guidelines

  • Non-exempt employees are entitled to a 10-minute paid and uninterrupted rest break for every four hours that they work.
  • The rest period may not be required for employees that clock in only 3 ½ hours per day.
  • Your employer may not require you to remain on work premises during rest breaks.
  • Workers may skip rest breaks provided that the employer did not coerce or persuade them to.

For a lawful meal or rest break, the employer must relieve the worker of all responsibilities and cease control of employee activities. Meal and rest breaks must be taken separately and cannot be combined. It is unlawful for an employer to provide a 1-hour period or less for both meal and rest breaks.

Can I take legal action against employers who violate rest break guidelines?

Yes, you can hold them accountable. Under California state law, employers who violate meal or rest break laws are required to provide their workers with “premium pay.” Employees are legally entitled to one additional hour of wages at their regular rate of compensation for each workday that the meal or rest period is denied.

Apart from the base hourly wages, other nondiscretionary payments like incentives, commissions, bonuses, and shift differentials must also be taken into account when calculating premium pay.

Can exempt salaried workers also sue employers for no meal or rest breaks?

It depends. There are several kinds of exemptions within California labor laws. For instance, supervisors may fall under the executive exemption. In this case, it’s best to consult with a labor law attorney to understand your workplace rights or determine whether you’re misclassified by your employer.

Partner with skilled class-action lawyers

Employers can be held liable for failing to comply with rest period laws. At Haffner Law, we help workers file class-action lawsuits against unjust employers in California. Schedule a free consultation now and get the compensation you deserve.

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