SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) – A California labor and employment attorney says the state's meal and break laws are a struggle for many types of businesses to meet.
According to the California Labor Code, employees who are scheduled to work five or more hours must take a 30-minute meal break during which they are relieved of all duties. Employees are also entitled to 10-minute rest periods for every four hours they work.
If employees are not given these meal and rest breaks at the appropriate times or the breaks are interrupted, employers are required to pay them an extra hour’s worth of wages.
“If someone is slow to check out or clock out for their meal break, they should’ve clocked out by 1 and they clocked out a few minutes late for that, they get an extra hours' pay, which for unscrupulous employees can be an incentive,” Jeffrey Polsky of Fox Rothschild told Legal Newsline.
“The penalty is disproportionate to any possible harm.”
While the 10-minute rest breaks can be waived by the employee, the meal breaks cannot be. According to Polsky, even if employees want to take a late lunch, they cannot.
Polsky said the biggest issue with violations is that employees don’t address the issue until after they’ve been terminated or quit and the violations, many times, lead to class action lawsuits.
Many types of businesses struggle to give employees the proper meal and rest breaks, including small businesses and service industry businesses, Polsky said.
“It’s hard for small businesses because they have fewer employees to make sure that everybody is getting their meal and rest breaks at the time they’re supposed to be getting them,” Polsky said.
Polsky also mentioned that it’s hard for hospitals to give employees meal and rest breaks because nurses and other hospital staff aren’t always able to leave a patient when it is time to take their break.
To combat large numbers of violations, Polsky suggests both employers and employees are made aware of the rules because he is not hopeful they will change anytime soon.
Changes to code would have to be made at the legislative level, and Polsky doesn’t think legislators would be willing to make adjustments.
“I think the plaintiffs’ attorneys who are bringing these class actions have too much pull with the legislature to allow this to be changed; that’s just my opinion,” Polsky said.