Are workers required to have periodic breaks during the workday? Ask Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX in Hawthorne, California. When workers were denied breaks every four hours, as required by California law, and also were not compensated for working during those required breaks, they went to the courts for a remedy. $4 million dollars later, the issue is settled, and Musk presumably understands his obligation to workers. This 2017 case upheld the notion that employers must, indeed, provide periodic breaks for employees.
The question of what types of breaks employees are legally entitled to is highly litigated. One issue that the California Supreme Court dealt with in 2012 addresses the issue of whether employers are required to ensure employees actually take breaks, as opposed to whether their obligation is simply to offer them. The court ruled in favor of Brinker, saying that providing breaks is the extent of the employer’s responsibility.
What does the law say about mandatory rest breaks?
The law is pretty straightforward. Employees may not work for more than five hours without being given a 30-minute meal break. It is not necessary to pay employees for this break. So, does that mean your boss can require you to eat a sandwich at your desk while continuing your duties? Absolutely not! The law is quite specific:
- Employers must permit an uninterrupted 30-minute break and give a reasonable opportunity to take it;
- Employees must be relieved of all duties and relinquish control of work activities;
- Employers cannot pressure employees to skip their break;
Absent these criteria, the meal break cannot be unpaid. Paid on-duty meal breaks may be permitted only when circumstances do not permit an employee to be relieved of all duty. Employers and employees must agree to this arrangement in a signed document, with the understanding that the employee may revoke the agreement at any time.
For employees working 10 hours or more at a time, a second meal break of 30 minutes is required.
When can you waive a meal break?
There is one circumstance that allows the employer and employee to agree to waive the break period – when the day’s work can be wrapped up in six hours. For employees working 12 hours or less who have taken one meal-break, the second break may be waived by mutual agreement.
What other rest breaks do employers need to make available?
In addition to 30-minute unpaid break periods, nonexempt employees are entitled to a 10-minute rest period if they work at least 3.5 hours. These breaks must be provided at least once for every four hours worked. The general expectation is that the break would fall somewhere midway in the worker’s shift.
What are the consequences of not allowing employees a 30-minute break?
Employees who do not get their 30-minute unpaid break are entitled to an hour of pay at their regular rate. If a provided break is interrupted, the same rule applies, and the additional hour of pay must appear on the next paycheck.
Is your employer playing fast and loose with break time? If you have been denied the rest periods to which you are entitled, let the experienced legal team at HKM help. Contact us today for a confidential consultation.