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Do You Need a Meal Breaks Lawyer?

It may come as a surprise to you, but the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require employers to provide their employees with breaks during working hours. However, if an employer chooses to provide breaks, the FLSA provides the requirements for how long these breaks are and whether the employee must be paid for the time. Fewer than half of the states in the nation provide legislation addressing meal breaks. Fortunately, California requires employers to provide meal breaks, and to pay employees if meal breaks are not provided. If you have been deprived of your required meal breaks, an experienced meal breaks lawyer can help you understand your legal options.

What Are My Meal Break Rights?

In addition to a break period of at least 10 minutes for every four hours worked, non-exempt workers have the right to a meal break of at least 30 minutes for every five hours they are on duty. During this time, the employer cannot require the employee to remain on duty and must relieve the employees of all job duties during this time. If the employer fails to do this, then the employer must pay the employee one hour of pay, which is often referred to as a meal break premium payment. 

The employer must pay a non-exempt employee the premium payment in all of the following circumstances:

  • The employee is interrupted by work duties during meal break;
  • The employee is required to keep a mobile device or walkie-talkie powered ‘on’ during meal breaks just in case the employer calls;
  • The employee is required to remain on the premises during meal breaks;
  • The employee has any job duties whatsoever during the break; or
  • The break is less than thirty minutes.

Employers are not required to pay a premium payment where an employee is able to take a duty-free meal break by the fifth hour of work but chooses not to do so. Similarly, if an employee is allowed to leave the premises during a meal break, but voluntarily chooses to remain on the premises for an off-duty meal break, the employer is not required to pay a meal break premium payment.

Employers are not permitted to require an employee to work during their meal break and cannot force the employee to combine meal and rest periods. However, employees can choose to forego a meal break if the employer agrees to allow them to and this agreement is made in writing. Employees cannot choose to forego their 10-minute break, however. Despite the name, employees are not required to eat a meal during their meal break, and employers are not required to provide their workers with meals.

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What If I Didn't Complain About My Meal Break Rights?

You are not required to complain about your meal break rights to the employer who deprived you of them, although complaining may go a long way to resolving the issue, particularly where the employer was not aware of the employee’s inability to take meal breaks . However, you will need to prove that your employer did not provide meal breaks as required by state law, so documentation is important. This may include time sheets showing that you could not clock-out for timely thirty minute meal breaks, or documentation showing that you were performing work or forced to stay on the premises while clocked-out for a ‘meal break.”

What Should I Do If I Cannot Take My Meal Breaks?

If you are being denied your meal breaks, you have three options to resolve the situation, including:

  • You can attempt to resolve the issue informally with your employer;
  • You can file a claim against your employer with the state’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement in California;
  • You can file a legal claim against your employer in civil court. This is a claim filed in civil court that seeks one hour’s pay for each day on which your employer did not provide you with a timely, thirty-minute, off-duty meal break. If you performed worked while clocked-out for a meal break, your lawsuit may also include a claim for unpaid wages for work performed off-the-clock.

Filing a Claim Against an Employer for Failing to Provide Meal Breaks

If you file a legal claim against your employer for not providing you with meal breaks, you will needproof that a break was either not permitted to be taken or that the employee was not paid for the meal break even though conditions existed that would require payment, such as the employee was required to remain on the premises and working during the break. If you prevail with your claim, you could be eligible to receive back pay, including one hour of wages for every missed meal break as well as corresponding overtime pay for the time you were required to work when you should have been given a break.

How Can a Meal Breaks Lawyer Help Me?

An experienced worker’s right lawyer can provide a number of services focused on assisting you in obtaining the money you were entitled to receive for your employer’s failure to follow state and federal break requirements. Some of these services include:

  • A determination of the breaks you have missed and guidance on the legal options that are available to you.
  • Assistance with filing a claim against your employer in court.
  • Assistance in negotiating a settlement with your employer in order to obtain the compensation you are entitled to receive for the meal breaks your employer failed to provide, while avoiding the expenses and time associated with litigation.
  • The collection and organization of evidence needed to prove your claim, including timesheets and testimony from co-workers.
  • Representation in court.
  • Assistance in collecting the compensation that has been awarded to you.

The law requires employers to provide one 30-minute meal break for every 5 hours worked. This means that during an 8-hour shift, only one meal break is required.

If you work over 10 hours in a day, then California law entitles you to a second meal break of at least 30 minutes that must start before the end of the tenth hour of your shift.

You can and your employer can agree to waive your meal break. However, you can only waive your second meal break if you do not work more than 12 hours and you did not waive your first meal break.

If your employer is not allowing you – or you are otherwise unable to take – meal breaks, you have the right to pursue legal action against them.

Federal law does not actually require employers to provide meal and rest breaks to their employees. Many states (including California and Washington) have taken steps to protect employees by putting laws in place that require breaks.

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After experiencing any type of harassment or discrimination in the workplace, it’s difficult to know where to turn, to know who you can trust. At the Malk Law Firm, we have successfully represented employees against large and small companies (all over California and Washington) in various labor and employment-related lawsuits.

Trust our team to fight for your rights in the workplace. Our employee rights lawyer is available for a consultation to discuss your options. Please reach out today to tell us about your case.

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