California has long been a “pro-employee” kind of state, with laws heavily favoring workers’ rights – but that doesn’t stop wage theft from happening on a regular basis. One of the most common ways that wage theft happens is when an employer violates their employees’ rights to meal or rest breaks.
California law requires employers to give their workers 30 minutes for a meal break when someone works more than five hours in a day and two 30-minute breaks if they work more than 12 hours in a day. They’re also required to give employees an additional 10-minute rest break for every four hours the employee is on the clock.
So, how do employers skirt the rules and commit wage theft? Consider these three examples:
1. The working lunch
If your employer pressures you to eat at your desk so you can keep a big project moving, that’s taking your unpaid time from you. If your employer needs you to work through lunch (and you agree to it), that’s only permissible if you’re paid.
2. The office party
Has your employer ever sprung for pizza or brought bagels and cream cheese to a meeting so that people can grab a bite without leaving the office when there’s something important going on? That’s fine if your employer wants to treat the staff, but they can’t declare their donation a substitute for your meal break.
3. The “on-call” break
If your employer expects you to take a walkie-talkie with you on your lunch or rest break so you can be summoned back to the factory or department store floor in any emergency, that’s not giving you full use of your free time – and that’s also wage theft.
If you believe that your employer owes you for your work because they’ve been stealing your time for a while now, it may be time to find out more about your legal options.