One situation that employees often struggle with knowing is if they are due overtime pay. When you’re being asked to work an extra 10 or 20 minutes after your shift or to come in 15 minutes early for a quick meeting, it adds up. Is your employer obligated to pay you overtime? What about rest or meal breaks? If you’re working an eight hour day and aren’t being offered the chance to take a lunch break or step outside for some fresh air, is that fair? If you’re feeling overworked, you should know what is and isn’t fair or even legal.
Laws Regarding Lunch/Dinner Breaks
Each state has laws regarding meal breaks and rest breaks. California’s laws state that any employee who works more than five hours a day is entitled to a lunch break of at least 30 minutes. The only exception to this is if you work six hours or less, you can both agree to waive the meal break. The lunch or dinner break should take place between the fifth and sixth hours of work if not earlier.
If you work 10 hours or more, you’re entitled to a second meal break. That meal break should take place between the 10th and 11th hour of work or earlier. If you’re not working more than 12 hours, you can reach a mutual agreement to waive the second meal break if you didn’t waive the first. Employers typically don’t have to pay for meal breaks, but there is an exception to that.
Some jobs may require that worker’s meal breaks be negotiated differently. For example, workers who cannot leave their post because there is not a back-up employee, such as a food kiosk cashier or security guard at a specific booth/gate, may be required to eat their meal at their post while they work. If that’s the case, your employer must pay you.
If you’re a commercial driver and transport commercial feed products to rural areas, you can delay the lunch or dinner break past the sixth hour if necessary. If that’s the case, the pay rate has to be at least 1.5x for overtime.
Collective bargaining agreements may alter the meal break rule in certain industries. For example, people in the film industry may require a monetary payment if meal breaks are not provided.
Finally, if you do take a lunch or dinner break and cannot leave the grounds, a protected area must be provided and it must have water and soap for washing hands before and after. This area might be a cafeteria or break room.
What about rest breaks? You’re allowed 10 minutes of uninterrupted rest for every four-hour period you work. If you’ve worked four hours, you get a 10-minute break. If you work another four hours, you get a second 10-minute break. During those breaks, you are not supposed to be called back to your desk or line early.
For nursing moms, you also need a quiet place to express your milk where people do not come and go. That break room for pumping milk has to have a chair, table or desk, outlets, a sink, and access to a refrigerator or cooler for storage. If more than 10 minutes is needed by a nursing mom, extended breaks have to be allowed unless it causes problems with workflow.
There are some limitations on breaks. If you work in a 24-hour care setting, breaks may need to be shifted to meet the needs of patients or elderly residents. People in industries like construction may not be able to stop what they’re doing and take a break. Breaks may be delayed to prevent issues with workflow.
The workday is 8 hours. A workweek is 40 hours. If you exceed those, you could be eligible for overtime pay. If you’ve worked more than 8 (up to 12) hours in a day, you’re entitled to 1.5x for the extra hours. If you work more than 12 hours during a workday, you get 2x for the additional hours.
For example, say that you’ve just worked a 16-hour shift to fill in for a worker who called in. You’ve worked your 8 hours at your normal rate. The 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th hours of work are paid at 1.5 times the pay. The 13th to 16th hours of work are paid at 2x your hourly rate.
There are additions to that rule. If you work an 8-hour shift for 6 days and have another 8-hour shift on the 7th day in a row, all 8 hours on that 7th consecutive day are paid using the 1.5x rate. If you work more than 8 hours on the 7th consecutive day, you get 2x your hourly rate.
There are exceptions to this rule. Those who work in agriculture may not qualify for overtime pay. These laws are changing each year and depend on how many agricultural employees work on a farm. Right now, farms with 25 or fewer employees do not have to pay overtime until a workday exceeds 9.5 hours. Farms with 26 or more employees pay overtime after the workday exceeds 9 hours. The standard of more than 8 hours qualifies for overtime will not go into effect until 2022 for farms with 26 or more employees and 2025 for farms with 25 or fewer employees.
There are other exceptions, too. You should consult an attorney who specializes in employment law to better understand if any exceptions apply to you. Exceptions include truck and taxi drivers, student nurses, outside salespeople, airline employees, carnival ride operators, and workers who have a collective bargaining agreement that sets overtime rules within the contract.
What if Your Employer is Breaking Those Rules?
If you were given the chance to take your lunch or dinner break but opted to keep working anyway, your employer is not obligated to pay you for that lunch break. But, your employer may be required to pay you for that hour’s time if the employer agreed to let you keep working. If that hour puts you into overtime pay, your employer would have to pay you the overtime rate for that hour.
If you are entitled to a lunch or dinner break and your employer refused to allow you to take one, you must be paid an hour of wages. If you were not allowed to take three lunches during your workweek, you’re owed three hours of wages for that week. If your employer refuses or fails to pay, file a wage claim or contact an employment law attorney for advice. There is a three-year statute of limitations on wage claims. Make sure you’re well within the deadline if you do feel you were wronged.
Shegerian Conniff specializes in wage and overtime and rest and meal break complaints. If you believe your employer is not following the laws, give us a call. It’s free and we’ll help you understand your options and figure out what steps to take. Don’t worry about your employer retaliating if you do file a complaint. Laws protect you against retaliation. We’re happy to go over those laws with you. There’s no risk. Why not see what we can do to help out?