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What you need to know about meal breaks in California

At one time or another, most employees have questions about meal breaks. Is it a right or a privilege? What happens if the company refuses to provide lunch breaks? Are meal times supposed to be paid or unpaid?

Here are a few key points about meal breaks from the California Chamber of Commerce:

If you’re working more than five hours in a row, you deserve an unpaid meal break. This break should be at least 30 minutes, and your employer should allow you to take it no later than the end of your fifth hour on the job. Your employer is not allowed to stop you or discourage you from taking this time off. During this time, you should be uninterrupted and relieved from your job-related duties.

(If you are only scheduled to work six hours, however, you and your employer can agree to waive this meal break.)

If you’re working more than 10 hours, you deserve a second unpaid break. Like the first, this meal period should be at least 30 minutes, and it should happen before the end of your tenth hour on the job.

(You can only waive this second meal break if your employer agrees, you’re not working more than 12 hours total and you actually took the first meal break of the day.)

Meals breaks while on duty are only allowed under special circumstances. If your employer asks you to keep working while you eat lunch, for instance, it may not be legal. Typically, you have to agree to such an arrangement in writing, you have to be paid for that time and you have to meet other conditions. Don’t hesitate to consult a lawyer if you believe your employer may not be following the law.

If your employer fails to provide meal breaks, you may deserve money for it. California law says that for every day your employer failed to offer you a meal period, you deserve an extra hour of pay. This can quickly add up if this is a recurring problem in your workplace. If you work full-time and your company has failed to provide lunch breaks for a year, for instance, you could deserve thousands of dollars in compensation.

Learn more about your rights by talking with one of the employment law attorneys at Lawless & Lawless in San Francisco.

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