Whether you’re working at a restaurant in Glendale or a large warehouse in Los Angeles, lunch break laws in California protect you in ways that federal laws don’t.
The bottom line is that federal law only requires employers to pay employees for the hours they’ve worked; that time can include employer-designated breaks. The catch: employers aren’t required to allow break time.
That’s where California’s labor law for lunch breaks comes in. (If you’ve determined that your employer wrongfully denied you lunch breaks or didn’t pay you for working lunch breaks under our state’s employment law, you may need to talk to a Glendale employment lawyer as soon as possible.)
What is California’s Labor Law for Lunch Breaks?
The labor law for lunch breaks requires employers to provide a 30-minute meal break after an employee has worked five hours. The meal break doesn’t have to be paid, and the employee can give up his or her lunch break if the workday will last fewer than six hours. If an employee works a 10-hour shift, he or she is entitled to a second 30-minute (unpaid) meal break. If the workday will last fewer than 12 hours, the employee can skip the second meal break.
However, in a long workday that ordinarily requires two unpaid lunch breaks, the employee is only allowed to waive one of them (it doesn’t matter which one).
Unpaid Lunch Break Law
The unpaid lunch break law requires the employee to take a break from all his or her duties; that means a working lunch doesn’t count as an unpaid lunch break. Your employer is filling its legal obligations to you if it:
- Relieves you of all duty
- Does not control your activities (lets you leave)
- Gives you a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted, 30-minute break
- Doesn’t discourage you from taking your lunch break or get in the way of you taking your lunch break
Paid Lunch Break Law
If you have a job that doesn’t allow you to take a break from all your duties, your employer can provide an on-duty meal break. Because you’re still working, even if you’re eating lunch, the employer still has to pay you. If this is the case, though, you and your employer must agree to this kind of on-duty break in writing.
What if Your Employer Violates Labor Law for Lunch Breaks?
It’s not uncommon for employers to accidentally or purposefully violate their employees’ rights to lunch breaks, but the state of California has built a system to protect employees who aren’t being treated fairly.
If your employer fails to provide you with a meal period, which is required by law, they must pay you an additional hour of pay at your regular rate. This law lets you have up to three years to claim unpaid wages for missed lunch breaks.
Let’s say you worked nine-hour days for a month straight, and your employer didn’t give you time to have an uninterrupted, non-working lunch break during any of those shifts. Your employer would owe you pay for 10-hour workdays for the entire month, not for nine-hour workdays, at your regular rate of pay.
What to Do About Violations of Employment Law Regarding Lunch Breaks
If your employer violated California’s employment law by failing to provide you with lunch breaks, or by failing to pay you for working lunch breaks when the employer required you to stay on-duty, you may want to talk to an employment lawyer as soon as possible.
One of the first things your lawyer will probably ask you is how long ago these violations occurred. If they happened within the past three years, you may have a case for an unpaid wage claim.
Do You Need to Talk to a Lawyer in Glendale or L.A.?
We may be able to help you get compensation for violations of your lunch break rights. Call us at 818-617-9712 or get in touch with us online so we can examine your situation and develop a plan of action to help you get what you deserve.