Does California Law Require Paid Lunch Breaks?

Paid Vs. Unpaid Break Federal Laws


According to federal law, businesses must pay employees for all hours worked, including any time designated as “breaks.” For example, if you have worked through a meal break, your employer must pay you. In the same way, a paralegal who eats lunch at her desk while working, a maintenance specialist stops for a brief break while going from one task to the next, or a receptionist who has to cover the phones or wait for deliveries during lunch must be compensated for that time.


The five to twenty-minute breaks are regarded as part of the working hours and must be compensated for by the employer. Even though the employer considers this time a lunch break, the employee is still expected to be compensated for their time. Additionally, according to federal legislation, businesses are required to cover their employees’ rest breaks.


A meal break is often considered “bona fide” if it lasts at least 30 minutes, while shorter breaks could be acceptable depending on the situation. During meal breaks, you should be released from all obligations to eat. However, you will not be subject to reimbursement by your employer. If you have no job to complete during a meal break, you are not required to be permitted to leave the workplace.


Employers are not required to give breaks in the first place. These regulations, however, only apply if an employer allows breaks. Even if the period is marked as a break, federal law only mandates that an employer pays for a set amount of time.


Who is Exempt from the Lunch Break Law?


It is crucial to identify if you are an exempt or non-exempt employee to know if the employee lunch breaks law applies to you. According to California law, exempt employees must meet the following requirements:


  • You must be an executive, administrative, professional, or outside salesman.
  • You must routinely use independent judgment.
  • Your monthly payments must be at least twice the federal minimum wage for a full-time job.


Your employer may designate you as exempt if you meet all three of the requirements above, in which case they would not be required to give you paid breaks. There are several more categories of exempt workers, including hourly-paid employees in the computer software industry and qualified inside or outside salespeople. Independent contractors are likewise excluded, as are employees. California also includes regulations and exclusions that apply to the healthcare sector, building trades, security guards, the film industry, union employees, and commercial drivers.


Can You Sue Your Employer for not Providing a Lunch Break?


If your employer fails to offer you lunch breaks in California, you could sue them under the laws governing wages and hours. By filing a lawsuit, you may be able to recoup the damages your employer is required to pay you, court fees, and other related expenses.


A class action lawsuit may be warranted if a group of workers is denied their legally mandated lunch breaks. An employee harmed in particular circumstances may also be eligible to file a claim under the Private Attorney General Act (PAGA). The Act allows you to independently file a wage and hour claim and serve as attorney general.


You could take your employer to court to hold them accountable if they have refused to provide you with lunch breaks. Your situation can be evaluated by a knowledgeable employment law attorney in California, who can then provide you with advice on your legal rights and options.

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