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Employees to California Supreme Court: Give me a Break

Meal and Rest Period Laws: California Supreme Court to clarify on-call rest break law

Whether employers can require employees to have cell phones or radios while on break will be the focus of an upcoming Supreme Court case.

California requires employers to allow employees to take rest breaks. Under state law, an employee cannot work more than five hours without having an unpaid, off-duty meal break of at least 30 minutes. Employees who are nonexempt and work at least 3.5 hours in a day must have a rest break of 10 minutes for every four hours worked.  Employers who fail to adhere to these laws are on violation of California's meal and rest period laws. 

Under state law, employers who fail to provide a break in accordance with the law owe employees one additional hour of pay as wage. Employees can recover that amount up to three years after the failure to provide such a break.

California Supreme Court to decide on-call break issue

While the law on rest and meal breaks for employees is well established, gray areas in the law remain. For example, if a worker is on call during a rest break, is that considered a true break?

The California Supreme Court in 2012 held that the law requires employers to relieve employees of "all duty" while on a meal break. In January, however, the California Court of Appeals ruled that under the Labor Code, employees who were on call during a rest break were not "performing work" as defined in the relevant state statute. The appeals court wrote that although the workers were on call, "they were otherwise permitted to engage and did engage in various nonwork activities."

On April 29, the California Supreme Court agreed to review the case. At issue will be whether, similar to its 2012 ruling, rest breaks must be free of "all duty," including being on call.

Employees who are not receiving rest breaks

While it remains to be seen what the Supreme Court will decide in the case, there are clear-cut circumstances under which employees can recover back wages if not provided adequate breaks under California law. Answering email or the phone during breaks, for example, is work activity that is not allowed under state law. The employee can choose not to take such breaks, but they must be provided for if the employee needs them.

If you are a nonexempt employee who is not receiving rest breaks as required under California law, you may be entitled to monetary damages. At The Law Offices of Daniel Feder, our firm is experienced representing workers who have experienced labor violations under California law. Contact our office to discuss your situation and legal options.

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