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The Turley & Mara Law Firm, APLC

What Can Workers Do If an Employer Won’t Allow Them to Take Lunch Breaks?

It’s not really your manager’s fault that you skipped your lunch break—the front desk was overrun, and you felt bad for your coworkers. You knew that they would want to help you instead of running for take-out, so you told your manager you would keep working. But if he didn’t make you stop right then and there, he could be liable for a serious labor violation, especially if it’s happened more than once.

Under California Wage and Hour law, any hourly employee working a shift of at least five hours must receive an unpaid 30-minute meal period. In order to qualify, you must clock out for your meal period and refrain from performing any work duties for the duration of your break.

What Your Employer Can (and Cannot) Do During Your Meal Break

  • Your employer is responsible for ensuring that employees take their meal breaks within the first five hours of work.
  • Your employer cannot demand that you respond to cell phone calls, texts, questions from coworkers or clients, or be available to the business in any way.
  • Your employer must completely relieve you of all work duties and ensure that you are free to leave the work premises if you wish.
  • Your employer is required to provide you a second meal period for any shift that exceeds ten hours.
  • If your employer fails to you provide a meal period, you are entitled to one hour's wages at your regular rate of pay for each day that a meal period was not provided.
  • If your employer requires you to remain at the job site during breaks, but still requires you to clock out, you are entitled to payment at your regular rate of pay for the meal period plus the premium of one hour's pay.
  • If you have not received meal breaks or premium compensation for breaks that weren’t provided, you are entitled to back pay of one hour's pay per day.

What Can You Do If Your Employer Refuses to Pay?

Even if you told your employer that you voluntarily gave up your break, he still owes you for any time you continued working. If you were not allowed to take breaks, or were told to clock out but stay on-site, you are entitled to back payments and interest for wage violation. 

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William Turley
“When I seek out professional advice, I don’t want B.S., I want it straight up. I figure you do also.”

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