How Much Break Time Does My Employer Have to Give Me?

I recently asked my 6 year-old niece what was her favorite subject in school and she replied:  “Recess.”  Certainly, that is true for most 6 year-olds.  The same likely is the case for working adults.

Research shows that taking breaks during work is important for mental health and concentration, and that taking breaks actually prevents employees from getting bored, and thus unfocused.  Taking breaks also gives employees an opportunity to retain information and to take a step back to ensure that they are accomplishing their goals in the right way.

California law states that an employer must provide a 30-minute, uninterrupted meal period to commence no later than after five hours of work, meaning if you started work at 9 A.M., your lunch period must begin no later than 2 P.M. By using the word commence, the meal period only needs to begin before working more than a five-hour work period, but the meal period does not necessarily have to be completed by this time. This break can be waived by mutual agreement if the employee is working six hours or less. The employer does not have the right to waive this break for his or her own benefit. If an employee is scheduled to work 10 hours, a second 30-minute meal period must be provided after the 10th hour of work (after the second five-hour work period). Similarly, this break can be waived by mutual agreement if the employee is working 12 hours or less, and only if the first break was not waived.

Aside from the lunch break, California law provides the equivalent of two recess as well.  All non-exempt employees have a right to one 10-minute rest period roughly half way through each four-hour work period. This rule only applies to shifts that last longer than two hours. A 10-minute break must be provided for shifts lasting two to six hours and a total of 20 minutes for shifts lasting six to 10 hours, and this continues in four-hour increments.

There is no “set-in-stone” way of determining exactly when these breaks need to be taken. Realistically speaking, work periods are generally split by when the employee takes their meal period. For example, in an eight-hour shift, an employee who takes their meal period at the four-hour mark would split their workday into two four-hour work periods. Thus their rest periods would roughly fall in the two-hour mark and the six-hour mark of their shift.

It is important that you take a break during the workday to give yourself a chance to unwind and maintain stamina throughout the day. If you believe your employer is withholding break time from you, or you believe you are not being properly compensated for working through meal periods, you should contact one of our attorneys for a free case evaluation today.

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