California Employee Break Rights

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Meals and breaks during the work day are an important part of the work environment. Employees in California are entitled to breaks and meals during a work period. Other states that entitle workers to meals and breaks during the work period include Nevada, Colorado, Washington and Oregon. However, there are certain stipulations and exemptions for the meal and break law.

Rest Breaks

After working for 3.5 hours, you are allowed a 10-minute break. If you're working four hours, you must have a break consisting of 10 consecutive minutes. This break should be in the middle of the work period. If the break is forfeited by your boss, you are entitled to one hour of pay for every day a break is forfeited. These breaks must be paid and the employer may want you to stay on work premises during the break.

Meal Breaks

A meal break in California must be provided to you after working at least five hours in a day. Once you hit five hours of work, you're entitled to a 30-minute unpaid meal break. For working 10 hours or more, you're entitled to a second meal break. This meal break is unpaid and you are allowed to go off premises during it. For every meal break that isn't provided, you can collect an hour of pay for each day it happens.

Exempt Employees

Exempt employees who are bona fide aren't subject to the meal and break laws in California. You can choose to waive your meal break if you work no more than six hours and you may waive your second meal break if you work no more than 12 hours. Workers under a collective bargaining agreement might not be subject to California meal and rest laws. A written agreement between employee and employer must be completed for those employees who can have a working lunch because of the nature of the job. This agreement may be revoked by the employee at any time.

Different Stipulations

If you work through your rest period, you don't get to leave early. For example, if you're scheduled for a 10-minute break and work through that break, you don't get to leave 10 minutes early at the end of your shift. California employees don't get extra breaks if the employee is a smoker. You must use your time during breaks and meals for smoking and other things. You may also use the restrooms during your shift, not just during your breaks and meals, but how often is up to your employer.

Federal Law

Federal law for meals and breaks is radically different than California's. The law doesn't require any kind of breaks to employees. However, if an employee gets a short break, he is entitled to be paid while on the break. If an employee takes a meal break, he isn't entitled to payment while on the meal break.


About the Author

Christina Martinez has been writing professionally since 2007. She's been published in the California State University at Fullerton newspaper, "The Daily Titan." Her writing has also appeared in "Orange County's Best" magazine. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications and print journalism from California State University.

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