Here in California, the laws about rest and meal breaks are undeniably clear. For every eight hours of work, an employee is entitled to two paid ten-minute rest breaks and one unpaid 30 minute meal break. These laws were put in place for a reason and proof of violation is clear grounds for a lawsuit, and yet employers across the state are still finding ways to “save a nickel” by forcing, pressuring, cajoling, and shaming their employees into skipping or otherwise violating their rest periods.
These breaks are supposed to be your time to relax, take care of yourself, and wrap up any outside-work concerns during the day. If you feel that your workplace right to legal breaks are being violated, they probably are, but to clarify, let’s take a look at five of the most common ways that employers try to weasel out of providing you with the personal time you are required to have.
1. Being ‘On-Call’ During Your Break
On-call is a status that many professionals are familiar in careers ranging from medical to industrial. Being on-call is an important role allowing you to ride to the rescue should a coworker, client, or customer need your assistance in the moment. However, even if you could kick back during your on-call period, you are officially working because you could be called back to work at any moment. No matter how responsible you feel for your team or position, your employer is not legally allowed to ask you to be on-call during your rest or lunch breaks. IT is their responsibility to have enough staff for everyone to get their breaks and have at least one person on-call who is also officially on-duty as well.
2. Being Asked to Do Paperwork On Your Break
Paperwork is the bane of many active professions and it’s not at all unusual to see employees voluntarily catching up on a little form-filling or typo-checking during their ten minutes simply because their minds are still on work and they want to get ahead. It’s not illegal to tend to a few non-essential work tasks while you are on break, provided the tasks are not required. However, it is illegal to ask you to take your paperwork time during your lawful break periods. If your employer has stopped leaving enough time during paid hours to take care of paperwork, they absolutely cannot make you do it during your off time, or make you take care of their paperwork while they take a break instead.
3. Not Being Allowed to Leave the Premises for Lunch
During your 10 minute rest periods, employers can ask you to stick around or remain close to the building because they are paid, which is easy enough considering you only have 10 minutes each. However, you are not paid for your 30-minute lunch break and are officially ‘off the clock’. This means you are free to do anything you need or want to during this time as long as you’re back and ready for work before the 30 minutes are up. If your employer tries to keep you in the building with requests, requirements, leveled threads, or locked doors, they are breaking the law by preventing you from taking care of yourself, your stomach, and any urgent errands that may have come up.
4. Being Asked to Delay Your Meal Break
In an eight hour shift, your meal break is legally required to occur around the middle of the shift, somewhere before the end of the fifth hour of work. This is to prevent employers from forcing their staff to ‘put off’ their meal break until the end of the shift, effectively enforcing a 7.5 straight hour work period. Even if your employer is asking you to put off lunch for an extra hour, this is abuse of your rights and can be grounds for an employee rights violation suit.
5. Being Asked to Clock Out During Rest Breaks
Finally, some employees think they can cleverly ‘save money’ by requiring their employees to officially clock out during their ten-minute rest breaks. They may say that this is simply to make sure everyone keeps their breaks to ten minutes, but there’s a difference between time tracking and doctoring payroll. If your employer has staff clocking out for their ten minutes, this is actually stealing from the staff and is very legally actionable because these are mandated paid breaks.
Are your work break rights being violated? If your employer treats your break time like it’s theirs, is asking for more interaction with the time clock than is reasonable, or asks you to take on ‘just a few’ extra duties during your break time, they are breaking the law and are probably violating the rights of your coworkers as well. Don’t let their attitude make you think there’s nothing you can do. Here at Aiman-Smith & Marcy, we make it our business to stand up for ‘the little guy’ against abusive employers and big businesses that think they can break the law and take liberties just because they are big. To start your first consultation, contact us today. We’re ready to help you make the difference for both you and your coworkers who are likely facing the same break time abuse.