Can an Employer Dictate When Employees Take a Rest Break?

California’s state laws are largely pro-worker. As an employee in the State of California, you have many rights in terms of your hours, wages and time off. It is important to understand your rights as an employee so you can recognize when an employer is infringing upon them. You have certain rest break rights, for example, but a few parameters are within your employer’s control. If you suspect your employer of violating your rights as a worker, contact a Los Angeles employment lawyer for legal advice.

Rest Break Requirements in California

Rest breaks are mandatory for most employees under California’s Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders. All employers in California must provide 10-minute rest periods for every 4 hours worked. These breaks must come in the middle of the worker’s day, or as close to it as is practicable. If an employee does not work for more than 3.5 hours, the employer does not have to grant a rest period. It is against the law for an employer to withhold mandatory rest periods or to deduct authorized rest breaks from workers’ paychecks.

California’s law notably exempts certain types of employees from rest breaks. Employers may not have to grant rest breaks to commissioned employees or salespeople, physicians, computer service professionals, or truck drivers. Rest breaks must be uninterrupted. The number of required rest breaks per employee depends on the length of the shift. Employees who work 6 to 10 hours will receive two 10-minute rest breaks, while those who work 10 to 14 hours get three uninterrupted breaks.

In addition to mandatory 10-minute rest breaks for nonexempt employees, employers in California must also provide meal breaks for workers who are on duty for more than 5 hours in one day. Working more than 5 hours entitles an employee to one uninterrupted 30-minute meal break. Working over 10 hours will entitle the employee to two 30-minute meal breaks. If the employee will not work more than 6 hours in a shift, he or she has the option to waive the 30-minute meal break. An employee can waive the second meal break if the workday will not exceed 12 hours and he or she did not waive the first meal break.

Can Employers Control What You Do During a Break?

Employers have some control over when employees take their breaks, but they cannot control what they do during breaks. While the law requires the employer to grant the break as close to the middle of the day as possible, it does not control exactly when this is. However, the employer must at least provide a meal break no later than the end of the employee’s fifth hour of work.

During a mandatory rest break, an employer must relinquish control over the employee’s actions and activities. The employee cannot have any work-related duties to complete during a required break. An employer also cannot discourage a worker from eating or create incentives for workers to skip breaks.

What to Do If You Suspect a Rest Break Violation

It is against the law for an employer to withhold rest and meal breaks from nonexempt employees. If you suspect a rest break violation at your workplace, bring the matter up to your employer. It may be an unintentional oversight or ignorance of the law. If your employer still denies your right to a rest break, you may file a claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement for a solution. Provide a description of your problem as well as all required documentation. The Division will investigate your claim and may arrange a hearing.

You may also have the right to bring a lawsuit against your employer for a rest break violation. You have three years from the date of the last violation to file a claim in California. Your employer lawfully cannot retaliate against you for filing a lawsuit or complaint. An employment lawyer in Los Angeles can help you with the claims process for a rest break infringement. Your lawyer can protect your rights as an employee.