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Upholding California Break and Meal Time Requirements

In California, managers have to ensure their employees have a chance to take meal breaks and rest breaks. If they don't, the penalties can mount quickly. Meal breaks can be particularly tricky.

Here are some tips to help you ensure that you are compiling with meal/rest break requirements.

Break-Meal Time Obligation

In California, an employer must relieve its nonexempt employees of duties so they can take a 30-minute meal break within five and 10 hours of starting their shifts. An employer satisfies this obligation if it:

  • The employee is relieved of all company related duties during the breaks.

  • The employee has full control over their activities.

  • The company has given their employees a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break.

  • The company does not impede or discourage workers from doing so.

An employer is not required to police meal breaks and ensure no work is performed during them, However many employers prohibit performance of any work during meal periods. This will help alleviate claims that employees felt pressured by a manager to continue working while clocked out for meal periods. Some companies go so far as to program time-keeping systems to lock out employees who attempt to resume work less than 30 minutes after they clock out for a meal break.

It is a good idea to randomly audit time records to keep an eye out for meal-period violations. Another safe guard for employers, is to have employees sign acknowledgments that any acceptations made outside of the meal period schedule were by the request of the employee. Should a manager make an acceptation outside of meal period schedule, that should also be documented and the employee should be compensated according to local, state and federal laws.

A similar acknowledgment is a good idea for rest breaks, he noted. In California, workers are entitled to a 10-minute paid rest break for every four hours worked "or major fraction thereof."

An employee is entitled to one hour of pay for each day a rest-period rule was violated and an additional hour of pay for each day a meal-period rule wasn't followed. When the company fails to provide a meal break, it should pay the meal-period penalty.

Voluntarily Missed Breaks

If an employee's total work period per day is no more than six hours, the first meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and the employee. If the total work period per day is no more than 12 hours, the second meal period may be waived by mutual consent if the first meal period was not waived.

Employees might decide to waive their meal breaks to earn more money. For example, a commissioned employee may not want to miss out on closing a sale and may prefer to take a shorter meal period, postpone their meal period to a slower time or forgo their meal period all together. Again, it is recommended that you have an employee sign a waiver if they choose to deviate from the meal/break laws. Business owners may want to consult with legal counsel when drafting the waive.

In rare circumstances, due to the nature of work, an employer/employee may offer an on-duty meal-period agreement. This agreement should explain how the nature of the work precludes a duty-free meal period and how the employer or employee may revoke the agreement at any time, usually with 24-hour notice.

Some examples of jobs where duties may preclude meal breaks include:

  • A concrete mixer at a construction site.

  • A night-shift doorman.

  • A solo store clerk during the graveyard shift.

  • A caregiver for a person with a disability.

Ideas to Help Managers to Ensure Compliance

1) Some employers provide bonuses to managers for proper scheduling, which encompasses accounting for meal breaks so employees can fill in for others on their breaks.

2) Sometimes managers relieve employees for meal breaks and will know whether employees are taking their breaks, she added.

3) Performance-evaluation scores might include a section on managers' wage and hour compliance.

4) Ensure leaders of people know it is their responsibility to provide nonexempt employees required meal periods. The failure to do so may result in corrective action or other negative consequences.

5) Managers should encourage employees to follow the company meal policy, remind employees to take breaks and coach employees who fail to follow the policy.

Employees that work offsite result in their own set of challenges to confirm that meal period and rest break requirements are being followed. Some companies are using time-keeping apps to make it easier for field workers to report their time. A telecommuting agreement can note that those working from home or in the field must comply with meal-break policies, and managers should monitor telecommuters for compliance.

Nonexempt employees should be encouraged to report to HR any concerns that a supervisor is preventing employees from taking proper breaks.

Additional rest periods may be mandated such as breast feeding breaks or days of rest. The Downs Consultant Group can answer questions specific to state and/or work group.

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