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Should You Get Paid for Working During Your Lunch Break?

According to the California Department of Industrial Relations,

In California, an employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with a meal period of not less than thirty minutes, except that if the total work period per day of the employee is no more than six hours, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee.

In other words, if you work more than five hours in a single work day, you are entitled to a lunch break that is at least 30 minutes long. This statute also provides that, if the employer and employee both agree, any employee who works no more than six hours in a day can waive their meal break. These and other laws regarding meal breaks can be found in the California Labor Code § 500-558.

Typically, the problem at most workplaces is not with providing the lunch break, but whether or not the break is truly a "break." To remedy this potentially confusing situation, the labor code further defines what "break" time is and what "on-duty" time is.

  • During their meal break, an employee must not be doing any type of work duty. If they participate in even one work duty during this period, the meal period then is considered "on-duty" time which they should be compensated for at their regular rate of pay.

There is an exception to this rule however. Employees and employers may enter into an agreement to establish an "on-duty" meal period in cases where the nature of the work environment makes it impossible for any employee to have a duty-free meal break. Employees and their employers must enter into this agreement in writing and the employee can get out of this agreement at any time. Employers can be held liable for entering into these agreements with employees who legally should have off-duty meal periods.

California labor codes are designed so that workers are compensated for the work that they do. If you work during your "break" period, you should be compensated for it, even if it is technically your meal break. While the labor code does not require employers to monitor lunch breaks to make sure employees are not working, it does make employers liable to do more than just making a 30-minute meal period available. An employer should intentionally and obviously relieve an employee of his or her duties and they definitely should not discourage them from taking their meal break.

Have you been working on your lunch break? Contact an Orange County employment lawyer at Diefer Law Group, P.C. today. We will evaluate your situation and provide you with information on the best legal recourse. You deserve to be paid for the work that you perform, and we're here to make sure you get it.