California has notoriously stringent wage and hour laws for employers. One particularly tricky area is related to meal break rules. 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 California meal period 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:
- California Meal Break 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 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 and other labor laws.
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 BlueforceTM 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