Meal and Rest Breaks
As Americans, we pride ourselves on our work ethic. For some, that means working tirelessly and continuously, and that’s exactly what some employers have come to expect. Added to that mindset, when the national economy took a downward spiral several years ago, employers began to lay off workers, expecting those who remained to simply work harder to get the same work done with reduced staff. Many workers feel that there just isn’t time for breaks, and because they need their jobs, they are anxious to demonstrate that they will do whatever the job requires without complaining, even if it means giving up their legal right to breaks.
The California Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders require regular paid breaks during the workday. For most workers, a ten minute break is required for every four hours worked. This doesn’t include time to use the restroom. The law states that “suitable resting facilities shall be provided in an area separate from the toilet rooms and shall be available to employees during work hours.”
Employers are also required to provide a private area, not a toilet stall, where nursing mothers can express breast milk for their babies.
Rest breaks are paid time, so the employer has some flexibility in scheduling them so as not to interrupt the work flow and create a hardship for the business.
Breaks Are a Win-Win Requirement
Although to some employers it may seem that they are losing out on productive time when their workers take breaks, research has shown that taking regular breaks from work actually increases productivity. Whether your work is mental or physical, when you are able to detach temporarily from your work and workspace, following a break you return recharged and geared up to get back to work again. With your inner resources recharged, you are able to perform more effectively. This is good for you, and good for your employer. Taking scheduled breaks also helps to reduce stress, which can cause illness, necessitating time off from work. So not only does your day become more productive, your improved health leads to greater long-term productivity with less absenteeism, so everyone wins.
In California, an employer is required to provide a meal break of at least thirty minutes, unless the employee works six hour or less per day and waives the right to a meal period. If you work more than ten hours per day, but no more than twelve hours, you get a second meal period. If you took the first meal break, you can waive the second.
Not all employers are clear-sighted enough to understand that legally-mandated breaks are for good for them, as well as for their workers, and may discourage them. If your employer has not provided at least ten minutes of break time for every four hours of work, you should file a complaint with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) or file a lawsuit against your employer to recover the one additional hour of pay, at your regular rate, for every day that you were not allowed to take a break.
Protect Your Rights
You may be hesitant to take action against your employer because you can’t risk losing your job, but the employer cannot legally do anything to retaliate against you for filing a report of a claim. Your lawyer will monitor your situation to make sure there is no retaliation, which would result in additional penalties to the employer.
At Harrison & Bodell in San Diego, we are well experienced and committed to protecting your rights in the workplace. Call us today.