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What is a meal period?

Jun 13, 2023

A meal period or lunch break is a chance for an employee to eat.  It is required in California under California Labor Law for non-exempt, hourly workers.

Can I require the Employee do some work during their meal period?

No.  The meal period is supposed to relieve the employees of all of their work duties.  Requiring the employee to perform work would mean that the employee did not receive their meal period.

When is an Employer required to provide a lunch break or meal period?

As an Attorney advising Employees, Employer often ask if lunches are required.  The Answer is yes, generally they are.  Whenever an employee works more than 5 hours per day, an employee is entitled to a meal period of not less than thirty (30) minutes.

Can an Employee waive the meal period?

Yes, if the Employee works no more than six hours, the meal period may be waived.  However, the waiver of the meal period must be mutual, meaning the employer and the employee must agree to waive the meal period.  For Employers, if you wish to do this, then have your employee sign that they are waiving their meal period in writing.  You want it in writing, so the employee does not claim later tht you forced them to give up their meal period.  If it is a standard practice that a given employee will waive their meal period, then have the waiver say that.  If the waiver of a meal period was just for a specific day, then you might want to specify the date in question.  If dealing with documenting the waiver is too much trouble, then I would suggest you just given the meal period.

Is the meal period paid?

Generally, as long as the employee is relieved of all duties, the employer does not need to be paid for the meal period as it is an unpaid meal period.

How long is the meal period?

A minimum of 30 minutes uninterrupted by work duties.  Of course, the lunch can be longer, but it cannot be shorter.

The meal period should be an uninterrupted 30 minutes at least.

When is an employee entitled to a meal period?

When they are a non-exempt worker who has worked at least 5 hours in a day.  Please note that if Employees work beyond 8 hours, they may be entitled to additional meal periods.

What happens if I do not provide a meal period to Employees?

As an Attorney advising Employers, sometimes Employer think that because a meal period is unpaid, what is the harm is forgetting to allow a meal period for an employee?  However, each missed meal period can subject the Employer to an additional 1 hour of pay as a penalty.  Given that an Employee might be entitled to an extra hour of pay for each lunch period (which could be everyday), the total over a year or two could be thousands of dollars depending how the rate of pay and how many lunch periods were missed.

Can an Employer require that their Employee remain on premises during the meal period?

Yes, an Employer can require that you stay on premises.  However, if the Employer does that, then the meal period must be paid, since the employee is not relieved of all duties.

Do the time cards have to reflect meal periods?

Yes, they should.  As an employer of hourly employees, all time worked should be tracked by timecards (or digital time tracking).  So, when an employee goes to lunch, they should be clocking out.  When the employee returns from lunch, the employee should be clocking back in.  Someone in charge of human resources of the employer should be checking these timecards to make sure that Employees are taking their meal breaks.  If Employees are routinely not taking their breaks, the Employer should remind them in writing to do so, or ask them if they have been taking the breaks, but forget to clock out.  If clocking out was forgotten, then adjustments to the timecards should be made with the employee signing off on the timecard correction.

Please note that the above advice is general and may not include all exceptions, or specific situations.  For advice on your specific situation, contact the Attorney to review the facts of your case. 

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