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Can an employer require you to skip your lunch in California?

On Behalf of | Mar 19, 2024 | Wage and Hour

Employees have specific rights in the workplace. Many of these are set by federal law; however, meal breaks aren’t. For workers in California, state laws set specific standards for meal breaks. Generally, these laws forbid employers from forcing employees to skip their lunch breaks.

Under these state laws, employers must provide meal breaks to employees who work more than five hours a day. Specifically, employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break if they work more than five hours, with an additional meal break if they work more than 10 hours. If an employee has to do any job duties during the meal period, the entire meal break must be paid at the employee’s normal pay rate.

Conditions for waiving meal breaks

While California law mandates these unpaid meal breaks, there are conditions under which an employee can waive their right to a meal break. A meal break may be waived if an employee’s workday is no longer than six hours. A second meal break can be waived for shifts that extend beyond 10 hours, but only if the first meal break wasn’t waived, and the total workday isn’t more than 12 hours.

The importance of mutual agreement and the absence of coercion

A critical aspect of meal break waivers in California is that both the employer and the employee must mutually agree upon any waiver. This agreement must be entirely voluntary, with no pressure or coercion from the employer. The mutual agreement must be clearly documented, ideally in writing, to provide a record that both parties voluntarily agreed to the waiver.

Compliance is vital for employers

Understanding and complying with meal break laws and waiver provisions is crucial for employers in California. Non-compliance can result in penalties, including payment of one hour of pay for each workday that the meal or rest period wasn’t provided. Employers must offer meal breaks in accordance with the law and ensure they are not implicitly or explicitly discouraging employees from taking these breaks.

If employees are forced to give up their meal breaks, they may opt to pursue a legal claim. Working with a legal representative who understands the strict California laws is critical in these cases.