Webinar | Key Legislative Updates for the Hourly Workforce | Tuesday, September 24th | 12 PM CST

Has predictive scheduling legislation reached your workforce? How about salary history bans? If they haven’t already, they likely will soon. 

Join Jennifer Long on September 24, 2019 at 12 PM CST to find out how far these legislative trends have spread and tips for updating your policies and practices. Topics will include:

  •  Predictive scheduling laws
  • Overview of salary history ban
  • Various penalties for noncompliance
  • Tips for updating your policies and practices

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California has notoriously stringent wage and hour laws for employers. One particularly tricky area is related to the California meal break law in 2019. Employers should make efforts to audit their policies and practices in relation to meal breaks to ensure compliance with wage and hour laws and prevent litigation.

Definition of Meal Breaks in California as of 2018

Meal breaks are mandatory breaks that employees must take at some point each day in the workplace. When to take lunch breaks in California and other aspects can vary from business to business, but there are certain specific break time rules in California that employees and employers are responsible for adhering to on a daily basis. Meal breaks are also notably different from rest breaks. You can learn more about what the 2019 California meal break law entails at the State of California’s Department of Industrial Relations website.

Frequently Asked Questions About California Meal Breaks

Employees and employers may have many questions about California meal breaks. Here are some of the more commonly asked inquiries.

  • How many breaks do you get for an 8 hour shift?
  • Are paid 15-minute breaks required by law in California?
  • Do employers have to give breaks in California?
  • What breaks are employees entitled to in California?
  • What is a meal break waiver?
  • Can I waive my meal break?
  • Can I work 5 hours without a lunch break in California?

To help answer these and other questions,here are four things California employers should remember regarding meal breaks in order to avoid wage and hour penalties and fines:

  1. California Meal Break Law Recordkeeping Requirements

Employers are encouraged to have written meal break policies, to train supervisors on how to enforce meal break compliance, and to keep accurate records of when meal breaks are taken. Recent California Wage Orders [1]state that employers must keep accurate records for each employee, including time records showing when the employee begins and ends each work period and meal break. The required time records must show the actual hours worked by the employee, so employers should not rely on work schedules posted in advance. Employers are required to keep these records for at least three years, however, it is advisable to keep them at least five years due to longer statutes of limitations available to employees in California. The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement office [2]takes the position that if an employer fails to maintain accurate time records, then an employee’s credible testimony of hours worked is sufficient to establish a wage claim. The burden is then on the employer to show that the hours claimed by the employee were not really worked.

  1. Timing of Meal Breaks in California

In the ruling for Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior Court[i], the California Supreme Court clarified that employees must be given their first meal break “no later than the end of an employee’s fifth hour of work, and a second meal period no later than the end of an employee’s 10th hour of work.” These meal breaks need to be 30 minutes or longer. However, employees can elect to have their boss waive this lunch break if they don’t work for more than six hours during the day. Employees can also generally choose to take on-duty meal breaks that enable them to get paid while counting the time as worked.

  1. Documented Procedures for Missed or Skipped Meal Breaks and the California Meal Penalty

Even if employers have proper policies in place for meal breaks, issues can arise if the employer knew that an employee was not taking his or her mandated meal breaks. Therefore, employers should implement a procedure for employees to notify the company if they are unable to take a meal break. In the event an employer faces allegations related to not providing a required break(s), the employer can refer to their “complaint procedure”, which requires employees to inform the employer of any potential violation.

  1. Paying Employees for Missed Meal Breaks

Beyond the complaint procedure mentioned above, employers should show that they have a system in place to correct any employer-related meal break violations. For example, if the employer confirms that the employee missed their break because of the rush of business or some other factor, the company should pay the employee one hour “premium pay” penalty at the employee’s regular rate of pay. The company should record these payments as proof that it has an effective process in place to rectify missed breaks.

Separating Rest Breaks and Meal Breaks in California

It’s important to keep in mind that rest breaks and meal breaks need to be kept separate from one another, and are not interchangeable. This means that employers can’t instruct employees to take one hour off and consider it a combined rest and lunch break in California. Employees should also understand that no work is required of them throughout these breaks at any point. There will also be certain exceptions and variations to California breaks and lunches depending on the industry, including the manufacturing, healthcare, and construction industries.

Meeting California Meal and Rest Break Requirements with Mobile Time and Attendance

If an employee needs to take either or a meal or rest break in California, he or she can utilize a mobile app as part of a complete time and attendance tracking system. This can allow employees to easily clock in and out when needed, and employers can track and monitor the amount of time that employees take off. Time and attendance tracking can help ensure that there is accuracy in recordkeeping regarding meal and rest breaks in California, while also making it easier for employers to ensure that employees are being more honest about their hours.

Through the successful recording, tracking, and adherence to California meal and rest break laws, you’ll be able to make sure your business meets all standards, without any of the potential complications that can come from inadvertently or intentionally violating these California meal break laws and other labor laws.

Compliance Pitfalls & How to Avoid Them

Given the increasing amount of litigation around meal and rest break practices, employers would be well advised to audit their workforce processes in order to ensure employees are receiving and taking proper meal and rest breaks. In addition, employers should audit their recordkeeping practices to ensure that meal breaks are being properly recorded.

EPAY’s flexible time and attendance system provides safeguards to ensure meal and break compliance, helping employers with distributed workforces reduce their risk of wage and hour lawsuits. Employers can customize EPAY Time & Labor to:

  • Track and monitor meal and break compliance in real time
  • Get real time alerts when meal or break violations occur
  • Provide employees with automated meal and break reminders at punch-in
  • Employ meal and break safeguards when automatically deducting time or when violations occur
  • Block meal break punches if the minimum meal break period is not elapsed
  • Record exact hours worked including meal break times

Remain Compliant with the California Meal Break Law in 2020 with EPAY

Interested in learning more about how EPAY can help you ensure compliance with meal break laws while cutting your labor costs by 5% or more? Set up a live demonstration, today!


[1] http://www.allenmatkins.com/Publications/Legal-Alerts/2012/04/12_04_2012-Brinker-Alert.aspx
[2] http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/faq_mealperiods.htm
[i] http://www.littler.com/files/press/related-files/CaliforniaSupremeCourtBrinkerDecision.pdf

17 responses to “California Meal Breaks: 4 Things Employers Should Remember”

  1. Gaby Dominguez says:

    what happens if your manager asks you to do something while you are off the clock on your lunch break.
    and then sends me back to finish my remaining lunch time.

    • Chris says:

      First he should not ask you to work off the clock. If he really needs you to return before the end of your meal period he needs to have you clock back in. Second since he did not provide you with a uninterrupted 30 minute meal break he will have to pay you an additional 1 hour of pay at your regular rate

  2. Gaby Dominguez says:

    what happens if the company I work says that I don’t clock out for lunch but it will be deducted.

  3. Son says:

    If I come in at 8 take my within first 3 hours the get off at 3 I work a total of 6.5 hours on the clock. How many 10 min breaks do I get? I usually take lunch by 10 am and then a 10 min break around 1 pm… off by 3. Sometimes I work til 3:15. Do they owe me extra pay?

    Plus today we had a staff go home sick got a 10 but worked 6.89 hours. My boss wasn’t there but I told her tonight. What does she have to give me?

    • Maria Ortiz says:

      You should get paid 1 hr for missed breaks daily but you can only get 1 paid break daily even though they didn’t give you 2

  4. citrus says:

    If I am a manager and am taking my lunch but my cashiers need me so I clock back in early, am I entitled to the premium pay?

  5. Kevin says:

    I haven’t taken a lunch in 30 plus years as I was a salary employee for most of that time..Recently I went back to a company as an hourly employee, and am now being told i have to punch out for lunch. Can I as an employee opt out of taking a lunch?? I’m not in an office for most of the day and eat while I drive.I prefer not taking a lunch as it just adds another 1/2 hr to my day.Do I have a choice as an employee?? can i sign something with the company to the effect that I will not take up litigation for not taking lunch??

  6. Sheryl says:

    I’m new to CA. Is it legal to have working lunches where the company pays for the lunch and conducts a meeting BUT during your lunch hour? And you are not compensated?

  7. Mike says:

    My employer says that it’s the law for an employee to clock out for a lunch break on the exact minute the ey have been there for 5 hours. They’ve also said if employees don’t do it this way they will be fired. This sounds ridiculous and sets us up for failure we don’t have the luxury of having a desk next to the time clock.a lot of us are out in vehicles helping customers.

  8. lisa g says:

    my company its mandatory for meal breaks 2 10 min and a 30 lunch they did not give me my 2 10 min breaks for 7 1/2 weeks
    I just informed human resources that this happen what are the penalties that I should expect

  9. Anonymous wonderer says:

    I worked for a company who kept records for years and then did away with the record keeping and moved to swipe cards at day vital time clocks…however they did not require me to punch out for lunch, the time was taken everyday and I was called away from my lunch a lot of the time. In your experience would I have any rights for compensation?

  10. Debbie says:

    In California, is it legal for an employer to require construction workers to bring their own lunch and not leave jobsite for lunch?

  11. Mallery Wassink says:

    Can your employee require that you take your 30 min meal break 1 hour after clocking into work meaning that by the time I end my 8 hour shift, I have gone without a meal break for 7 hours. I am provided two 10 minute breaks after my 30 min meal break.

  12. Ernest says:

    Is it legal for an employer to have you take a lunch just so you don’t have a meal penalty. For example I’m scheduled 5:30amm-10:30amm but he wants me to take a lunch in between that shift in order to not get a meal penalty. Is this illegal?

  13. joseph gambale says:

    there is no policy for meal breaks or rest breaks where I work .I work 6 hours a day 5 days a week for 12 years my employer keeps no records how can I prove a violation

  14. Dee says:

    I work for a hospital. We are told we have to clock out for a lunch break no later than 6 hours after clocking in because the hospital gets dinged when we don’t. I have worked for almost 19 years here and have had to clock out for lunch as much as 4 hours late numerous times throughout my career here and have never been compensated. If the hospital gets “dinged” to whom are they paying this penalty ?

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