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Navigating California’s Work Breaks and Overtime Laws

labor laws

California’s work breaks and overtime laws regularly confuse companies that do business in California. Understanding your obligations to provide rest and meal periods to employees is critical to the operation of any size business. A mistake, however innocent or inadvertent, results in costly penalties at rates much higher than any wages that may be due. The crux of the problem involves understanding which employees must be relieved of all their duties prior to a work break and what that entails, and which employees are entitled to overtime compensation for working in excess of 40 hours in a work week.

When companies encounter these issues they are immediately blindsided by numerous laws, case law, and regulations in the area of labor and employment law. If your business has inadvertently misclassified a worker as an independent contractor instead of an employee or an hourly worker as a salary worker, you could find yourself owing these employees hundreds of hours of unpaid wages. 

Rest and Meal Breaks

California law requires employers to provide a paid 10-minute rest break to it employees, relieving them of all their work-related duties, when they work for more than 3 1/2 hours.  This break should be as far as practical in the middle of a worker’s shift, not at the beginning or end of the work period.  The assignment of the slightest task during an employee rest period is not permitted. The break itself must be paid and the employer is not required to record the rest period.

The same is true for meal breaks — no employer may interrupt a worker’s meal period by requiring them to perform a task. This 30-minute meal period every five hours does not have to be paid, should fall in the middle of the worker’s shift, and must be recorded.

In Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., the California Supreme Court issued a ruling holding an employer responsible to pay wages to security guards when they were required keep their pagers and radio phones on during rest and meal breaks. The court awarded the employees close to $90 million in statutory damages, interest, and penalties.

Overtime Laws

California’s overtime laws mandate that any hourly worker who works more than eight hours a day or more than 40 hours in a work week receives overtime compensation for the extra hours. That means that the employee shall not be employed more than eight hours in any workday or more than 40 hours in any work week unless he or she receives one and one-half times his or her regular rate of pay for all hours worked over the threshold.

If you are a business in the East Bay Area including Fremont, Newark, Hayward, Milpitas, Union City, San Leandro, Gilroy, San Jose or Santa Clara looking for guidance on overtime and rest and meal break laws and regulations, seek legal advice and counsel from a California business lawyer today.


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Serving Businesses and Start Ups in the Greater Bay Area including Fremont, Hayward, Union City, Castro Valley, Milpitas, and Newark, CA.

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