Rest and Meal Penalty California Laws Made Easy

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California’s meal and rest break penalty laws mandate that employers must provide their employees with meal or rest breaks whenever they work a certain number of hours in a single shift. The laws also mandate that when employees miss their meal or rest breaks, they are entitled to extra pay. Depending on the hours worked, a long enough shift requires both types of breaks in a single shift. The longer the shift is, the more complicated the rules get. The requirements for meal breaks are different from the rest break requirements, which makes it even harder to keep everything straight. However, employers must understand these laws because both sides lose when they go unfollowed. Other states beside California are starting to adopt similar laws, which is another reason it’s important for all employers to know what’s going on. 

Meal Break Guidelines

California’s meal penalty laws require that employees must be provided meal breaks when working longer than 5 hours. Here are the details:

  • Any employee that works more than 5 hours in a single shift must be provided an unpaid meal break of at least 30 minutes. 
  • The employer must relieve the employee of all duties during a meal break. The break may not be interrupted or split into shorter breaks. 
  • If an employee’s shift lasts longer than 10 hours, they must take a second 30-minute meal break. 
  • Anytime an employee in California isn’t provided a meal break, the employer faces a penalty and must pay the employee an hour of pay at their regular rate. 

Meal Break Waivers

The law permits an employee to decline or “waive” a meal break if they wish. However, there are specific rules around waivers, too. An employee may opt to waive their meal break if their shift is less than 6 hours long. For any shift that is longer than 6 hours but no more than 12 hours, the second meal break may be waived. However, this only applies if the employee took the first meal break. Both the employee and employer should agree upon any waivers, and they should document the waiver in writing.

Rest Break Guidelines

California’s meal and rest break laws also require employees have regular rest breaks. Employees become eligible for rest breaks starting after 3.5 hours. Unlike meal breaks, pay still accrues during rest breaks. Here are the details on rest breaks:

  • For each 4 hours of a shift, employees must be provided a paid, uninterrupted 10 minute rest break. (Or a “major fraction” of 4 hours, which is anything greater than 2 hours.)
  • When employees miss or have rest breaks interrupted, the employer faces the penalty of owing the employee 1 hour of pay at their regular hourly rate. 
  • Unlike meal breaks, waiving rest breaks is not an option. 

To give an example, a 10.5-hour shift would require two meal breaks and three rest breaks. A shift of this length requires two meal breaks because it’s longer than 10 hours. It also requires three rest breaks because it contains two 4-hour periods and an additional 2.5 hours, which the courts consider a major fraction of 4 hours. If an employee misses both kinds of breaks in one work day, the employer owes two hours of pay at the employee’s regular rate. This is because they broke two different violations. Employees in California have three years to claim any owed meal or break penalty wages.

California Meal Penalty Automation – How TimeForge can help!

If this all sounds a bit overwhelming to you, don’t worry – you’re not alone. We know it’s difficult to keep up with and calculate the rest and meal penalty laws in California. This is why our labor management software does it for you. You now have the option to enable TimeForge to automate meal and rest penalties for your business. When employees miss their meal breaks or don’t take enough time, TimeForge automatically adds 1 hour of regular pay to the employee’s time card. This hour is coded with a meal penalty pay code and not straight time so you can easily tell the difference. TimeForge automates rest breaks in a similar way. These features can be adjusted by location or company-wide, so it’s perfect for employers with locations in multiple states.

Currently, TimeForge’s meal and rest penalty automation does not account for meal break waivers. However, automated meal penalties can easily be overridden by a manager or supervisor to make necessary adjustments. We are constantly making improvements to our software to help make your life easier. California’s meal and rest break laws are seriously complex and can be a pain for employers that end up catching the penalties, but they don’t have to be. Yes, employers should familiarize themselves with the laws, but TimeForge can help you do the hard part! To learn more about how TimeForge’s meal and rest penalty automation works, check out this how-to guide.

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