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Are contractors entitled to the same breaks as employees?

On Behalf of | May 17, 2024 | Other Employment Issues

California has labor laws that heavily favor employees, but what about independent contractors? Ultimately, most employment-related laws don’t apply to independent contractors.

Yet, the issue of how much control an employer has over a contractor’s working hours, such as when those workers take their breaks or eat their meals, is an area of the law worth understanding for those it affects.

Meal and break laws in California

In California, meal and break laws are designed to protect employees rather than independent contractors. Employees are entitled to a 30-minute meal break for every five hours worked and a 10-minute rest break for every four hours worked.

Since contractors are considered self-employed, they have more control over their work schedules and are not entitled to the same protections and benefits as employees. This distinction is based on the assumption that contractors have the autonomy to decide when and how they take breaks.

Employer control and misclassification risks

When an employer exerts significant control over a contractor’s work schedule, it can blur the lines between an independent contractor and an employee. If the employer dictates when and how the contractor must work, including mandating specific break times, this level of control is inconsistent with the nature of an independent contractor.

Such control can lead to legal scrutiny and the potential reclassification of the contractor as an employee. If that reclassification occurs, the now-employee would receive all required breaks and meal periods.

Determining classification

To determine whether a worker should be classified as an employee or an independent contractor, California uses the “ABC” test, which includes the following criteria:

  • A: The worker is free from control and direction in performing their work, both under the contract and in fact.
  • B: The work performed is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.
  • C: The worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation or business of the same nature as the work performed.

If the worker doesn’t meet all three criteria, they should be classified as an employee rather than an independent contractor.

Because the line between employee and contractor is so fine, it’s sometimes necessary to have a legal representative who can assist in the event that questions and concerns arise. From pursuing the breaks and meal periods that someone is due to misclassification concerns, it is easier to exercise one’s rights with informed guidance and support.