Question:

My employees don’t want to take meal and rest breaks, and sometimes they are too busy anyway. Do I really have to be concerned about meal and rest breaks if my employees don’t care about them?

Answer:

Yes. California law requires employers to provide meal and rest periods to non-exempt employees, and you need to comply with these laws even if your employees don’t appear to be concerned about their breaks. Your business should have a written meal and rest period policy that clearly explains the types of breaks your employees are entitled to, as well as how those breaks are to be taken. Your meal and rest period policy should also contain information regarding the recording of meals/breaks, and where meals/breaks are to be taken.

With respect to rest periods, the law provides that non-exempt employees be provided with paid rest periods of at least ten minutes for each four hours of work performed, and the rest periods should be taken as near as possible to the middle of the four hour work period. The employer may require the employee to stay on the premises during the rest period. However, providing the breaks is not optional. The employer must provide the rest periods to the employees.

With respect to meal periods, the law states that non-exempt employees who work five or more hours per day must be provided a meal break of at least a half-hour, which must be taken not more than five hours after the beginning of the employee’s shift. Meal periods should be taken away from work areas, and employees are not to perform any duties during their meal periods. Non-exempt employees must clock out when they leave for their meal period and clock in when they return. Meal breaks may be longer than a half-hour, at the employer’s discretion. However, meal breaks are not optional.

Employees may take on-duty meal breaks in certain circumstances. An on-duty meal break is permitted only when the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty. The on-duty meal break must be agreed to in writing by the employee and the employer, the employee must be paid for the meal break, and the on-duty meal period agreement may be revoked at any time in writing by the employee. Meal breaks may be unpaid only if they are at least thirty minutes long, the employee is relieved of all duty, and the employee is free to leave the premises. Employers must provide a second meal break of no fewer than thirty minutes for all workdays on which an employee works more than ten hours. If employees are required to eat on the premises, the employer must designate a suitable place for that purpose.

The potential liability associated with not providing meal and rest periods can be significant. An employee who is deprived of his/her meal and rest periods is entitled to one hour’s pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay for each meal period that is missed, and one hour’s pay for every day the employee missed a rest break. Last year, the California Supreme Court decided that an employee who missed meal or rest periods can recover these penalties for missed meal and rest periods occurring during the three years prior to the claim. Therefore, it is very important that you enforce the meal and rest period requirements in your work place. Even if your employees want to skip their meal and rest periods, an employee could file a claim in the future and potentially recover damages for three years of missed meal and rest breaks.
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