Meal and rest breaks

Often forgotten timing rules

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Dealers are continually challenged in complying with California’s meal and rest break laws. And although it is commonly known that employers must provide off-duty meal breaks of at least 30 minutes for work shifts of more than 5 hours, many dealers overlook the timing requirements of these breaks.

When must employees take their meal periods and rest breaks?

An employee’s meal period must be provided no later than the end of the fifth hour of work. This means that an employee who starts work at 8:00 a.m. must be provided a meal period no later than 1:00 p.m. In addition, a second meal period must be provided no later than the end of the employee’s tenth hour of work. As for the timing of rest breaks, each rest break should, insofar as practicable, occur in the middle of each 4 hour work period. So, in a standard 8-hour work day, there should be one rest break that falls in the middle of each period that occurs on either side of the meal break. At times, it may seem convenient to combine breaks or meal periods into longer breaks, or to tack them onto the beginning or end of the shift to shorten the work day. However, such practices are generally not allowed. A certain amount of flexibility is written into the rest break provisions that allow some variance in their timing if business needs dictate, however, the business need should be very pressing or urgent to justify the variance, and it should not occur on a frequent basis.

Can employees waive meal and rest breaks?

An employee may agree to waive a meal break if he or she works no more than 6 hours in the day. Also the employee can agree to waive a second meal break if he or she works no more than 12 hours in the day and did not waive the first meal break. Such a waiver should be in writing and signed by the employee, and we also recommend that the waiver state that the employee may revoke at any time. No express waiver is needed for rest breaks, and employees may choose to waive them, however, it is very important that the employer maintain good documentation and practices to show that any such waiver of a rest break is voluntary, such as strong policies encouraging employees to take rest breaks, and prohibiting supervisors from discouraging or preventing employees from taking rest breaks.

In Coffee Break episode 6, Chris and Jennifer discuss California law regarding meal and rest breaks, meal waivers, and some common mistakes auto dealers can make.