Many workers do not abide by the proper requirements in their workplaces, which may be due to the fact that their employers do not inform them of these rules and laws often enough. For example, many individuals avoid taking the rest breaks that are given to them during their shifts.
However, the issues may also be carried out by bosses – if a manager does not allow you to take a meal break, or if he violates your rights for that meal break, you could potentially sue and receive compensation for your damages. It is important that you understand the rules of meal breaks and how your employer can violate them. Our law firm, Employment Attorney Group, seeks to ensure that workers are never cheated out of their rightful salaries and that all employees understand their rights.
What is the Law Regarding Meal Breaks?
According to California’s Labor Code sections, there are specific rules that employers must abide by regarding their workers’ meal breaks. They are as follows:
LABOR CODE: DIVISION 2, EMPLOYMENT REGULATION AND SUPERVISION; PART 2, WORKING HOURS; CHAPTER 1, 512 (A):
(a) An employer shall not employ an employee for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with a meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that if the total work period per day of the employee is no more than six hours, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee. An employer shall not employ an employee for a work period of more than 10 hours per day without providing the employee with a second meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that if the total hours worked is no more than 12 hours, the second meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and the employee only if the first meal period was not waived.
LABOR CODE: DIVISION 2, EMPLOYMENT REGULATION AND SUPERVISION; PART 1, COMPENSATION; CHAPTER 1, PAYMENT OF WAGES; ARTICLE 1, GENERAL OCCUPATIONS, 226.7 (B):
(b) An employer shall not require an employee to work during a meal or rest or recovery period mandated pursuant to an applicable statute, or applicable regulation, standard, or order of the Industrial Welfare Commission, the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, or the Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
Therefore, employees are granted the right to take meals of at least 30 minutes over the course of their shifts, provided they worked more than 6 hours that day. They shall not be required to work during this period, or even to stay on the premises. Additional California law states that, during a lunch break, the employer must adhere to the following:
- Temporarily relieve the employee of all of his or her work duties and responsibilities
- Does not interfere with or control the employee’s activities
- Allow the employee a reasonable opportunity to go on a 30-minute uninterrupted lunch period
- Does not prevent, discourage, impede, or otherwise try to stop or hinder the employee from taking his meal break
If your employer behaves in any of the aforementioned manners, you could reasonably file a claim against him.
What are the Mandated Times and Pay for Meal Breaks?
California law does not require that employers pay for meal breaks, only rest breaks. Therefore, if you elect to take a 30-minute meal break or longer, you will not get paid for that time. The following numbers show what you are entitled to:
- If your work period was less than 5 hours, you are entitled to 0 meal breaks
- If your work period was 5 hours to 10 hours, you are entitled to 1 meal break
- If your work period was more than 10 hours and up to 15 hours, you are entitled to 2 meal breaks
- If your work period was 15 hours to 20 hours, you are entitled to 3 meal breaks
- If your work period was 20 hours or more, you are entitled to 4 meal breaks
As per the law, you must be allowed to leave the premises for your meal break, must not be required to complete any work duties, and must pay you during your meal breaks if you are required to stay at your worksite during the break.
How Do I File A Labor Code Violation and A Lawsuit?
In order to file a labor code complaint, you must follow these steps:
- Contact the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE)
- Fill out a form to show the income you made and lost out on; to make this easier, you should consult your W-2 or 1099 forms, as well as your pay stubs and bank account statements if you had direct deposit
- File your form with the correct DLSE office, which is determined by the city you worked in (this may be confusing, so it is recommended that you contact the Department to learn which office you should file with)
- Wait for a notice of conference from the Department
- Undergo the trial and wait for the ODA (order, decision, or adjudication), at which point you have 15 days to appeal
- Wait for the judgment and begin to collect your owed money
This is the procedure when filing a complaint with the labor board. Because of the intensive nature of it and the need for copious documents and evidence, you may be best served to enlist the help of an attorney to represent you.
Your best shot at success will be with the collection of ample and adequate evidence. Your first step upon noticing missed meal periods should be to speak with your boss or with the Human Resources department to figure out the issue and how to fix it. You should hold on to any exchanged documents or emails to show that there was a discussion regarding the problems.
The best evidence you can have is a written statement from your boss or a recorded statement that confirms that he was purposely limiting or removing your meal periods. This is extremely rare, though, and employers will likely never say these things out loud unless they believe they are doing so in confidence with a neutral party or someone on their side.
You should keep a rigorous journal and sheet of missed meal periods and breaks so you can cross-check them with your pay stubs and earnings.
If other employees at your job were also treated the same way or noticed that your meal breaks were being tampered with or removed, you could ask them for their testimonies and statements. Unfortunately, many workers do not provide such statements out of fear of being retaliated against themselves by the employer.
By getting representation from an attorney, you will have an expert on your side. You will not have to busy yourself with all the nuances of the case – it is best to leave the minutiae to a team with years of experience.
What Can I Receive in a Lawsuit for A Labor Code Violation for Missed Meal Breaks?
Upon missing a meal break, your employer must pay you one additional hour of pay at your normal rate,, not overtime or double time. While this may not seem like a lot of money, especially in isolated incidents, employers usually carry out these acts of discrimination or refusal over a period of time. You may find that your meal breaks are constantly removed or that your boss likes for you to work through them with no extra pay. Over time, these losses will add up to a lot of money, especially if it is common. Your back wages can total thousands of dollars.
There is also the chance that your employer will strive to retaliate against you for speaking out about the meal break laws or for confronting the employer for how he acts and treats you. You could sue and receive the lost wages that occurred if you were fired out of retaliation.
The continued refusal of lunch breaks and meal periods can also result in many psychological issues, like fear, anxiety, PTSD, and more. These are known as pain and suffering damages can cover all the losses that are not able to write down and calculated.
Further, a skilled lawyer can win you punitive damages, which are additional forms of monetary compensation meant to punish the employer and dissuade him from acting the same way in the future with other workers. Your employer must have deliberately attempted to hurt you or must have acted with malice or oppression. These are purely monetary forms of compensation, but they are difficult to win; many juries view them as unnecessary and harsh, so only an attorney with experience in labor law will be able to win them for you.
What is the Statute of LImitations to Pursue a Claim for Lost Wages Related to Missed Meal Periods?
California law dictates that employees who were mistreated and not allowed to go on meal periods, or who were otherwise treated wrongly or illegally, have up to three years from the date of the mistreatment to file a lawsuit to receive compensation. If you do not file your claim within that 3-year period, you will be unable to do so in the future and will not see any of the wages you lost.
The statute of limitations is in place to ensure that all cases are swiftly handled and do not drag on or hit standstills. The sooner you get your evidence together and file a claim, the more likely it is that you will succeed. Your employer will still have the total means to reimburse you.