What California’s New Meal Break Laws Mean for your Business

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If you manage staff, you’re probably familiar with meal break laws. However, new legislation passed in California on February 25 makes these laws even more precise. Under the new law, you can’t round meal break times to the nearest 5 or 10 minutes; meal period rounding is now illegal. Smart employers need a compliance plan to avoid facing legal action and fines. Here’s some important info about the new legislation, and how TimeForge can help.

California Meal Break Laws

First, here’s a little background about what the law already says about breaks in California. Employers must give employees a 30 minute meal break, no later than 5 hours after their shift starts. After an employee works 10 hours, they’re entitled to another 30 minute break. Every 4 hours, employers have to give employees a 10 minute break. The breaks have to be uninterrupted time where the employee is completely free of work obligations. Employees can freely decide to work on their break, but if a case goes to court, it’s up to the employer to prove it was the employee’s choice. That’s why it’s important to get it in writing when employees waive their breaks.

Missed breaks, late breaks, or too-short breaks can mean fines for employers. If employees can’t take proper breaks, employers have to pay employees one hour of additional time at their current rate. You can be liable for up to 4 years of meal break fines if you haven’t been paying out premium wages. If it goes to court, fines and attorney fees could mean employers pay as much as $520 per non-compliant meal break. It’s also important to note that Errors & Omissions Insurance and Liability insurance won’t cover these fines.

The New Ruling on Rounding

The supreme court ruling about rounding time was based on Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC, a court case involving a health care company that hired temporary nurses. The company was rounding shift times and break times to the nearest 10 minutes. For example, they’d count a meal break from 12:04 to 12:27 as 30 minutes, even though it’s only 23 minutes.

Why does it matter? The court ruled that for meal breaks, every minute counts. A 22 minute break is significantly shorter than a 30 minute one. AMN argued that their system balances out over time, since longer meal breaks are rounded down. But ultimately, the court decided that a longer meal break one day doesn’t make up for a shorter one on another day. It’s a health and safety issue, not a payment issue.

The result is that it’s now illegal to round time for meal breaks to the nearest time increment in California. Employers have to record exact meal break times and length, and rounded times create an assumption of fault. Rounding shift times might still be legal—but it’s probably not worth taking the chance.

How TimeForge Can Help: 3 Steps to Compliance

The responsibility to keep accurate time always falls on the employer. If employees take legal action against you, it’s up to you to prove your breaks are compliant. Every time there’s a record of a too-short meal break, rounded times, or no record at all, employers are liable. That means that inaccurate records can still cost you, even if you’re giving employees proper breaks.

Another problem is that it’s also pretty common for employees to take meal breaks late or cut them short. This is especially true in retail and service industries, when the unexpected happens all the time. But covering your legal bases is just as important as keeping your customers happy. Here are three important steps to take to keep your business compliant with California’s new meal break laws:

Step 1: Stop Rounding!

If you’re rounding time, you need to replace your system with one that lets you calculate exact times. TimeForge’s secure employee time and attendance clock-in system makes it easy for employees to punch in. You can choose from fingerprint and contactless options that track their time down to the minute.

Step 2: Have a Compliance Plan

That means a system to monitor breaks and pay employees out for missed ones. Your compliance plan should include proper documentation of short, delayed, or missed breaks and an action plan for when they happen. It sounds complicated, but with TimeForge, it’s simple. TimeForge can:

  • Automate meal and rest penalties. That means when an employee misses a break, they’ll get an extra hour of pay automatically. The time will be coded with a meal pay penalty code, so there’s no question about what it’s for after the fact. You can choose a pre-defined setting for your location, or adjust for company-wide rules.
  • Distribute and schedule breaks automatically so that they work for the law and for your business. Make sure employees take proper rest periods with software that signs them out at the right time. You can also require management input to sign them in outside of the scheduled time.
  • Alert managers every time a break violation happens with automated alerts. That means you can make adjustments right away to prevent break time violations in the future.
  • Go beyond ensuring the right break times with scheduling software that prevents penalized shifts. “Clopens,” split shifts, and other scheduling errors will be a thing of the past when managers are alerted to them as they’re scheduling.

Step 3: Start Training Staff on California’s New Meal Break Laws

Train all management staff and employees about the importance of legal breaks and timekeeping. When you’re starting a new compliance plan, explaining why it’s important will help everyone get on board. TimeForge can manage certifications for staff that go through labor compliance training. You can create custom HR documents that require signatures, so employees can confirm they’ve read any training manuals you send their way.

Give Yourself a Break with TimeForge

The new time rounding legislation affects all industries, but it’s particularly important for service industries to take note. Busy lunch rushes and retail holidays mean that, sometimes, missed breaks are an inevitability. But that doesn’t have to make them a liability. Software like TimeForge can help make sure you stay in compliance with the law, in a few simple clicks. Remember: you need a break too!

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