A long shift can seem even longer if you do not get a chance to take a break. Stopping to grab a bite is not the same as taking time to sit and rest so your body and mind can recharge. Unfortunately, not even half of the states in the country require employers to provide a period of time off the clock so you can sit and eat in peace. However, California does have such a law.
If you are a non-exempt worker in California, meaning that you receive an hourly wage and overtime if you work more than 40 hours a week, your employer has certain rules to follow regarding your breaks. Having a general understanding of those rules may help you recognize if your employer is violating your rights.
An overview of meal break rules
When you clock in for a shift that is five or more hours, you should expect a meal break. If your shift is much longer than five hours, you may deserve additional breaks. Here are some general rules regarding breaks in California:
- You get a 30-minute break for every five hours you work.
- Your break must come before you complete your fifth hour on the clock.
- If your shift is no longer than six hours, you can volunteer to skip the break, but your employer must offer it.
- You may also opt to work while eating, such as answering calls or covering the reception area, in which case your employer must pay you.
- If you work a 10-hour shift or longer, your second break must come before you complete your tenth hour.
- Rest breaks are different from meal breaks, and you may not have to clock out.
Of course, there may be days when business is booming, and you will have a rush of customers right when your boss has scheduled you for your break. If you miss your break for this reason, it is not enough for your employer to pay you normal wages for that time. The law says you must receive one hour of premium wage, which is the amount you would receive for working a holiday or overtime.
Your time is important, and it is unjust for an employer to take advantage of you by denying you adequate time to rest, eat and step away from your duties. Employers may think they can do this because workers do not always know their rights. If you have questions about your situation, you can seek answers from an experienced employment law attorney.