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Lunch Breaks at Work


Am I entitled to lunch breaks at work?

The California labor code and wage orders prevent employers from having nonexempt employees working more than five hours without providing an unpaid lunch break of at least 30 minutes. In addition, if an employee works more than 10 hours in a workday, they must be given a second unpaid lunch break.

Therefore, if you are working as an employee in California, you are entitled to receive an uninterrupted lunch break for 30 minutes once you have worked over 5 hours in one day.

Can my employer ask me to work during my lunch break?

No, it is important to note that your employer cannot require you to work during your lunch. If your employer provides you with a lunch break, but requires that you continue to work in some capacity, your employer is likely in violation of California’s employment law and you are entitled to recover compensation for these lunch break violations.


What are on-duty lunch breaks?

On-duty lunch breaks our lunch breaks, which have been recognized not to conform with California’s wage and hour laws. Consequently, any employee who is required to work and on-duty lunch break is entitled to receive pay for that time.

The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) has stated that on-duty lunch breaks are those during which:

  • Employees are required to continue working during lunch;
  • Employees are not relieved of all duty regardless of length; or
  • Employees that receive a lunch break that is less than 30 minutes long.

If you have been required to work on-duty lunch breaks, you may be entitled to recover unpaid wages.

Limited exception whereon-duty lunch breaks are permitted

California law only permits on-duty lunch for employees who work over 6 hours if the nature of the work itself prevents the employee from being relieved of all their duties during the meal break. If the employer and employee agree to an on-duty lunch break arrangement, the employee must be permitted to eat their lunch while carrying out work during their on-duty lunch break.

“On-duty” lunch breaks are only valid if there is a written agreement

It is very important to note that employers are required to follow specific requirements for on-duty lunch break arrangements. If the employer fails to follow the specific requirements, they will be liable for on-duty lunch break violations.

In order for an employer to claim that an on-duty lunch break arrangement was in place, the employer will have to show that both the employer and the employee agreedin writing to this on-duty meal break arrangement and also show that the employee was compensated for this time.

The written agreement between the employer and employee must state that the employee may revoke the arrangement at any time by writing to the employer and notifying them of their wish to revoke.

If there is no written agreement in place, the employer will be liable for lunch break violations for any lunch breaks that they failed to provide in accordance with California law.


My boss does not let me leave the premises during lunch

Your employer has a legal obligation to permit you to leave the premises during your lunch break. However, many employers require that their employees stay on premises, remaining “on call” in case they are needed during the lunch break. This is illegal. If you are being restricted from leaving the premises, you may be entitled to recover compensation for lunch break violations.

We are too busyto take lunch breaks

Many companies are understaffed, and employers attempt to save money by spreading the burden across their existing staff. In many instances, employees will feel obligated to carry out work during lunch periods in order to help their coworkers. If your employer is aware that you are working through your lunch breaks due to the demands of an understaffed business, you may be entitled to recover compensation for lunch break violations.

There is no record of lunch breaks

Under California’s wage orders, employers have an obligation to keep a record of hours worked and the starting and ending times for meal breaks. Therefore,

How much can I claim for meal break violations at work?

Meal or lunch break violations are calculated at the rate of one hour of pay per day. Even if you have been subjected to two lunch break violations in a workday you are only entitled to recover one lunch break premium per day.

Can I waive my 30-minute meal break?

If you work for 6 hours or less in a workday, you may choose to waive your meal break. However, your employer cannot require you to do this, rather it must be your choice.

In addition, if you work more than 10 hours per day, you may choose to waive your second meal break, provided that you did not waive your first meal break in the same workday. Many employees working 10-hour shifts choose to waive for a second meal break as this enables employees to finish work earlier.

Employers would be wise to have any waivers in writing in order to avoid disputes regarding whether employees voluntarily requested waivers, or whether the employer may be liable for on-duty meal break claims. The Byrne Law Group provide detailed information regarding meal and rest break violations in California.