Meal and Rest Periods

There has been a lot of attention recently given to California Wage and Hour Law (CWHL) and how it relates to Meal and Rest Periods. Most importantly, how does it apply to the Catering, Hospitality and Event Staffing industries in California? Labor law litigation is at an all time high and the compliance process can be both confusing and challenging. Well, we are here to take some of the confusion out of it, answer some of the commonly asked questions, assist you with the compliance process, and hopefully minimize your employer liability.

Rest Period Defined

• Employee is eligible for a 10 minute Rest Period for every 4 hours of work.
• No Rest Period is required if an employee’s total shift is less than 3½ hours.
• Rest Periods only need to be available on request and is not mandatory, i.e. employer is not required to force the employee take a Rest Period.
• Rest Periods are counted as hours worked, so there is never to be a deduction from wages.
• There is no requirement for documenting the Rest Period, i.e. employee does not need to clock-in/out on a time card or sign in/out on a time sheet.
• The Rest Period is always considered distinct and separate from a Meal Period.

OFF-DUTY Meal Period Defined

For OFF-DUTY meal periods, the employee is relieved of all duties. This is the common meal period used for hospitality staff and, if compliant, is typically unpaid. For a meal period to be California Wage and Hour Law compliant, it must:

• Be a minimum of 30 continuous minutes (adding two 15 minutes breaks is not compliant).
• Start no later than the completion of the 5th hour of work.
• Employee must be relieved of all duties.
• Employee must be free to leave the work premises.
• Be documented on the employee’s time card or time sheet with a start and end time.

ON-DUTY Meal Period Defined

For ON-DUTY meal periods, the employee is not relieved of all duties and may be called to work at any time during the ON-DUTY meal period. This type of meal period is typically used for supervisory staff or positions, due to very unusual circumstances, that cannot be relieved of all duties while working. The ON-DUTY meal period should still be 30 minutes and be documented, but if ON-DUTY, it is a paid meal period, i.e. no deduction from time worked.

When is an OFF-DUTY meal period required?

If an employee works a shift longer than 6 hours, the meal period is required.

For a shift longer than 6 hours, when must the meal period be taken?

The meal period must start no later than the completion of the 5th hour of work (e.g. if a shifts starts at 12:00PM, the meal period must start no later than 5:00PM).

Can the meal period be waived by the employee?

An Employee may waive a meal period only if the shift is to be completed in less than 6 hours. If a shift exceeds 10 hours, two 30 minute meal periods are required, however only one may be waived. It is recommended to have a signed Meal Period Waiver for all staff on file. This will limit your liability if a meal period waiver ever is challenged.

What are the most common reasons a Meal Period is not compliant?

• Employee works a shift longer than 6 hours and is not provided or denied their Meal Period.
• Employee is given a Meal Period, but it is after the 5th hour of work.
• Employee begins a Meal Period, but is pulled back to work before 30 continuous minutes.

What happens if the employee does not receive a compliant Meal or Rest Period?

California law requires the Employee to be paid a one hour Meal Period Penalty at their prevailing wage rate.

For more information, you may also visit the California Department of Industrial Relations website at www.dir.ca.gov/ .

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