In many ways, California labor law is more generous to workers as compared to federal laws. For example, under California law non-exempt workers must receive an uninterrupted 30-minute meal break if they work for more than 5 hours.
However, if you do not work more than 6 hours in one day, you may choose to voluntarily waive your meal break. According to the California Department of Industrial Relations, the employer must relieve the employee of all duties during the meal break in order for it to have legal validity.
Does the employer have to require that the employee do no work during the break?
No, it is not the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the employee does no work during the 30-minute meal break. However, in order for a meal break to have legal validity, the employer must allow the employee complete free movement during the meal break.
Employers are not allowed to attempt to try and persuade employees to skip their meal breaks by making scheduling them inconvenient. The employer must allow the employee to leave his or her desk or the company premises during the meal period if the employee wishes.
What happens if my employer does not allow me to take a meal break?
If your employer does not provide the required meal period, you must receive one hour of pay at the regular compensation rate for each workday that the employer does not allow you to take a completely unfettered 30-minute meal break.
If your employer does not provide the required break, and nor does your employer pay you the required additional hour of compensation, you should file a wage claim with the state of California to rectify the situation.