The federal law requires that all employers provide reasonable rest and meal breaks. California has an even more refined definition of what those mandated meal and rest breaks should be. Specifically, you have a right to a 10-minute paid break for every 4 hours you work. For each 5 hours you work, you also have a right to a 30 minute unpaid meal break.
This means that a standard 8-hour shift would include two 10-minute paid breaks and one 30-minute meal break. A shift of 10 hours would include two paid breaks and two meal breaks. A shift of 12 hours would include three paid breaks and two meal breaks. You see how this works.
However, hundreds of workplaces tend to work straight through these breaks without acknowledging that they should exist. From office workers to delivery drivers, there may be an unspoken assumption that you would work through these times, up to even working through an unpaid lunch break. This is illegal, an breach of your employee rights, but also a company culture thing. If you don’t think anyone is actively trying to defy your rights, one of the best things you can do is simply start to take your breaks as they should be taken. And quietly encourage your coworkers to do the same.
Start Taking Your Ten Minute Paid Breaks
Paid ten-minute breaks are really as very small part of the workday. A normal 8-hour day includes 20 total minutes of paid time to relax. In some occupations, like retail, these breaks are essential for bathroom trips and personal care. In office jobs, it may seem less important. But no matter your industry, those ten minutes every four hours are yours, and your coworkers. If you do not defend them by quietly shifting the company culture, then someone who really needs those breaks may not get them, or you may miss them when you are in need. So start taking your breaks.
Somewhere within each four-hour block, take ten minutes to relax. Do a little meditating if you have no other task to take care of. And encourage your coworkers to grab their ten minutes whenever they need it most.
Clock Your Lunch Break Accurately
Your lunch break is 30 unpaid minutes in which you do not have to do any work and are free to leave the premises. This freedom is essential so that employees can grab lunch, run an errand, and take care of personal matters in the middle of their day. If your lunch break is being whittled away or you’re expected to work through the break, start defending your time. Do not shorten your lunch break and don’t work through your break.
But do clock your break very accurately. Clock out when you leave your work tasks and clock back in exactly half an hour later. This is the most fair approach for both you and your employer. And encourage your coworkers to do the same, with the freedom to leave the building if they need to.
Take a Dinner Break If You Work 10+ Hours
If your shift is ten hours or longer, you have a legal right to take a second unpaid 30 minute meal break. In fact, you are legally required to. Take your dinner break and let any similarly long-shift coworkers know that they can do the same. Grab dinner, destress, maybe just read a book in your office if you don’t have other plans. Then clock in exactly 30 minutes later.
If Asked, Inform the Asker of California Law
If your boss catches you relaxing during your ten minutes or not working through lunch and asks what’s up, let them know that you are carefully following California law for rest and meal periods. Frame it as you being responsibly in-compliance rather than sounding accusatory or defensive. You are doing your duty as an employee to take the legally required breaks. You are protecting yourself and your company from non-compliance and so are any coworkers who join you in quietly taking your proper breaks.
If Pressured, Seek Legal Counsel
If your compliance answer is responded to with pressure to skip breaks or work through your breaks, then maybe that no-breaks company culture wasn’t just a coincidence after all. Underlying greed or unmanaged workplace stress often leads to employees being asked to give up the breaks they need to be healthy, happy, and focused. It’s also highly illegal and abusive to your employee rights.
In the event that a boss or supervisor does not accept your polite enforcement of your rest-break rights, it’s time to seek legal support and possibly put together a lawsuit with coworkers to defend your rights against abusive company policies.
Here at Aiman-Smith and Marcy, we are passionate about defending employee rights no matter the circumstances. Contact us today to find out more about maintaining your rights and the rights of your coworkers to legal rest breaks and meal break freedom.