Mulling Over Lunch Breaks

The employer-employee relationship is governed by different laws depending on the state in which you live in.

The employer-employee relationship is governed by different laws depending on the state in which you live in. The fact of the matter is that the employer needs the employee and the employee needs the employer. In order for the relationship to be mutually beneficial it is important for an employer to create an environment that allows the employee to be effective and efficient at their work. One way this is achieved is by adhering to the laws with regards to the provision of lunch or meal breaks to employees. The California wage-and-hour law makes it a requirement that all non-exempt employees who work more than 5 hours a day must receive at least one meal break that is 30 minutes long.

Some employers do provide such meal breaks, however, they have terms and conditions to the meal breaks begging many questions. For example, if an employer requires an employee to be ‘on call’ during the meal break, is this lawful? Can it truly be referred to as a meal break or rest break if an employee is ‘on call’?

In general, an employer may not require employees to continue working during a break or remain ‘on call’ during a meal or rest break. According to the Labor Code 226.7 a recovery period is defined as a ‘mandated meal, rest, or recovery periods; requirement to work prohibited.’ In addition, the statutory instrument states that “an employer shall not require an employee to work during a meal or rest or recovery period mandated pursuant to an applicable statute or applicable regulation, standard…” One article states in this regard that, “during required rest periods, employers must relieve their employees of all duties and relinquish any control over how employees spend their break time.”

However, there are certain jobs that may require an employee to remain on-site or at the work facility during their lunch break. In addition, on-duty meal periods are required to be paid at the employee standard rate of pay. An on-duty lunch break is only legal and allowed under the following circumstances :

  1. Where the nature of the work prevents the employee from being relieved of all his or her duties
  2. Where the employee agrees in writing to stay on-site during meal periods and the written agreement states that the employee may revoke the agreement, in writing, at any time.

What about in instances where an employer cancels employee lunch breaks in a situation where the business gets busy? Is it lawful? The fact of the matter is your employer cannot cancel your lunch break. By telling an employee that they need to come back to work while they are on their lunch the employer is basically denying the employee’s meal break and such a denial is in violation of California labor laws. However, it is important to note that employers are not required to make sure that you take a lunch break neither are they required to enforce the employees’ meal break period. If you choose to continue working while on your lunch break the employer is not responsible.

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