Meal Period Violations
California employees are entitled to a 30-minute duty-free meal period for every 5 hours worked.
If the employee works 10 hours, that employee is entitled to 2 separate meal periods. The first
meal period must begin within the first 5 hours worked, and the second meal period must begin
within the next 5 hours worked, etc. The second meal period can be waived if it is in writing,
but not if the employee works more than 12 hours in a single day.
For EVERY DAY that a meal period violation occurs, the employee is entitled to 1 hour of pay.
For example, if a meal period violation occurs 365 days in a single year, then multiply the
employee’s hourly wage by 365 to determine 1 year’s damages for meal period violations.
Typically, meal periods are considered unpaid, meaning the employer is not required to pay an
employee during the time that the employee takes these duty-free meal periods. However, if the
employee is required to work during these meal periods (i.e. eating while working, or eating
while on-call on the premises), or these meal periods are not duty-free and are instead
“interrupted”, then the employer must pay the employee during the meal period. Not only is the
employee entitled to his/her wages for the time worked during this meal period, but the
employee is also entitled to an additional 1 hour of wages for the meal period violation (for the
employer’s failure to provide a duty-free meal period).
Rest Period Violations
California employees are also entitled to a 10-minute duty-free rest period for every 4 hours
worked. If the employee works 8 hours, that employee is entitled to 2 separate rest periods. The
first rest period must begin within the first 4 hours worked in a single day, and the second meal
period must begin within the second 4 hours worked in that day, etc.
For EVERY DAY that a rest period violation occurs, the employee is entitled to 1 hour of pay.
For example, similar to meal period violations (above), if an employee worked 365 days per year
and does not receive his/her rest periods, then that employee’s damages are calculated by taking
the regular-rate hourly wage and multiplying it by 365 days.
If the employer fails to provide, permit, or authorize both meal periods and rest periods, then the
employee is entitled to the total of 2 hours of wages for every day that the employee works.
Common Violations (Meal and Rest Periods)
The common violations that occur within a workplace are as follows:
Example 1: An employee works 8 hours per day, 5 days per week. The employee’s regular-rate hourly wage is $10.00 per hour. Although this employee receives meal periods, it is only 15 minutes per day. This is a violation, and the employee is entitled to $10.00 (or 1 hour of wage) for that day’s violation (on top of the regular wages already received). Thus, the employee is entitled to $50.00 that week in meal period violations.
Example 2: An employee works 8 hours per day, 5 days per week. The employee’s regular-rate hourly wage is $10.00 per hour. The employee works from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., but does not receive his/her 30-minute duty-free meal period until 2:15 p.m. Since the first meal period must being within the first 5 hours worked (or before 2:00 p.m.), this could be considered a violation, entitling the employee to 1 hour of wage for that day’s violation. Since that employee works 5 days that week, he/she is entitled to and additional $50.00 that week.
Example 3: An employee works 11 hours per day, 5 days per week. The employee’s regular-rate hourly wage is $10.00 per hour. That employee works from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., and he only receives one 30-minute duty-free meal period at 12:00 p.m. Although this meal period is “dutyfree” and is taken within the first 5 hours worked that day, this is still a violation because the employee is entitled to the total of 2 meal periods that day (the first must be taken before the first 5 hours worked, and the second must be taken within the next 5 hours worked). These 2 meal periods cannot be combined into a single 1-hour meal period at 12:00 p.m. This employee is entitled to 1 hour of wage for that day’s violation, multiplied by the number of days worked with
Example 4: An employee is told to eat inside the office so that he/she can work while he/she eats. This is not considered a duty-free meal period, and is therefore a violation, entitling the employee to 1 hour of wage for that day’s violation, multiplied by the number of days worked. similar violations.
Example 5: A hotel’s front-desk clerk works the midnight shift. No customers come into the hotel from 2:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. since it is in the middle of the night. The employee therefore surfs the internet until the phone rings or a customer comes into the hotel lobby. Does this mean that the employee had a rest break at some time between 2:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. just because customers did not come into the hotel? The answer is NO. Employers often make these types of arguments, but they are often incorrect. If a customer walked into the hotel at 2:30 a.m., the employee would be required to assist that customer, and therefore it is not considered “dutyfree” and “uninterrupted”.
Exemptions, And Exceptions To The Rule
Keep in mind that there are numerous exceptions to the rule, or exemptions. In order to determine whether these exemptions apply, and whether you received all wages that you are entitled to receive, contact an attorney at Moon & Yang for a free evaluation.
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