The human body isn’t meant to work constantly. People who are working need to be able to rest for a little bit. They also need to eat. The Labor Code in California sets specific standards for employers so that employees know they can take care of these basic needs.
If you work at least five hours in a shift, you are required to get a 30-minute meal break. The only exception to this requirement is if you work less than six hours and you agree that you don’t need to take the break.
People who work at least 10 hours per day are required to get a second meal break that lasts at least 30 minutes. If the worker works fewer than 12 hours, the second break can be waived if the employee and employer both agree.
One area where employers aren’t always honest is pay for these breaks. The only way the break can be unpaid is if you are relieved of all duties during the entire period. If you have to remain on duty, the meal break must be paid. The only times when you can have an on-duty meal period are if you agree to it in writing or if the nature of the job makes it impossible for you to go off duty. If your employer requires you to remain on the premises, you must be paid, even if you are relieved of all duties.
There are some employers who will try to skirt around these rules. This is unacceptable. Claiming that the business is too busy or that it is short-staffed aren’t good reasons to deny required meal breaks to employees.
If you aren’t given the meal periods required for your shift, your employer owes you one hour of pay per for each workday that you aren’t given the break. If your employer isn’t giving you the breaks you are due and refuses to provide you with the requisite compensation, you might need to explore legal action.