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Is Your 30-Minute Lunch Break an Obligation or an Option?

The California Supreme Court resolved an important legal issue last year in Brinkley v. Superior Court — whether employers must make sure that employees use their breaks or simply provide opportunities for break time. The court concluded that employers are not obligated to ensure that meal breaks are fully used by employees, but employers must take steps to preserve their availability.

The first meal break

California law dictates that every employee working for more than five hours must be given an unpaid, off-duty meal break of 30 minutes. When the employer does the following, the meal break may be unpaid:

  • Removes all duties from the employee
  • Releases all control over the employee
  • Grants a 30-minute break free of interruptions
  • Refrains from curtailing the break in quantity or quality

Upon agreement by the employee and employer, the meal period may be waived if the work period is less than six hours.

The second meal break

When an employee works for more than 10 hours, employers are required to provide a second meal break of at least 30 minutes. An employee who does not work more than 12 hours, benefited from a first meal break and entered into an agreement with the employer may waive the second meal break.

On-duty meal break

An on-duty meal break is authorized by California law when all of the following factors are satisfied:

  • The work does not allow for the employee to completely relinquish responsibilities.
  • The employer and employee signed a written agreement.
  • The employer provides full remuneration for the meal break.
  • The employee may cancel the on-duty break at any time.

Meal breaks are very important to California employees, and the law attempts to preserve them. If you feel that your employer is not providing a meal break according to the law, schedule a consultation with a Los Angeles employment law attorney.

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