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Meal Periods & Rest Periods

Bryan Little, Farm Employers Labor Service

Oct. 18, 2017

Meal period and rest period requirements are a frequent subject of calls to the FELS Sacramento office. These questions stem from one of three concerns:

  • The complexity (or at least lack of simplicity) of meal period and rest period requirements;
  • The impact of the California Supreme Court’s 2012 Brinker decision. Many employers simply do not yet fully appreciate the impact of Brinker’s clarification that an employer meets its duty to provide* a meal period simply by relieving an employee of all duties, but need not require the employee to cease work and take the meal period*; and,
  • The continued “popularity” of meal period and rest period claims in lawsuits with plaintiff attorneys who exploit confusion over meal period and rest period requirements, both among employers who might have failed to comply with them and employees who likewise don’t understand those requirements and are willingly led into lawsuits against their employers (or ex-employers) with the promise of easy money at their (ex-)employer’s expense.

  • *Under California Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order No. 14-2001, an employer’s duty is to authorize and permit meal periods—not provide them as under other IWC wage orders. But Brinker interpreted “provide” in such a way that there is no meaningful distinction between an employer’s duty to provide meal periods or to authorize and permit them. Either term enables an employee—with the employer’s consent—to work through a provided or authorized and permitted meal period. The same holds true for rest periods, which also must be authorized and permitted.

For the information of FELS Newsletter subscribers, we offer this summary of meal period and rest period requirements. A similar article is posted on the FELS website for your later reference; you can find a link to that article at fels.net/find.

Agricultural employers face huge penalties for failing to authorize and permit rest periods or meal periods as specified in California Industrial Welfare Commission Order No. 14-2001, which covers persons employed in agricultural occupations. It is extremely important for supervisors to know the number of rest periods and meal periods to which employees are entitled.

To aid FELS Newsletter subscribers in that regard, the table on page 3 states the number of 10-minute rest periods1 and 30-minute meal periods2 an employee must be allowed under IWC Order No. 14-2001 for the number of hours worked by the employee in a workday.

Exception: If a work period of not more than six hours will complete the day's work, an employer’s duty to authorize and permit a meal period may be waived by the mutual consent of employer and employee.

The waiver of an employer’s duty to authorize and permit a meal period differs from the skipping or forgoing by an employee (with the employer’s consent) of an authorized and permitted meal period.

Specifically, an employee may, with the employer’s consent, skip or forgo any—or even all—meal periods authorized and permitted for a workday. In other words, an employer meets its obligation to authorize and permit a meal period by relieving an employee of all duty and giving the employee a genuine opportunity to take it—even if the employee, with the employer’s consent, chooses to work through it.

IWC Order No. 14 contains these provisions for meal periods and rest periods:

Meal Periods:

Every employer must authorize and permit all [covered] employees after a work period of not more than five hours to take a meal period of not less than 30 minutes.

Exception: If a work period of not more than six hours will complete the day’s work, the [employer’s duty to authorize and permit a] meal period may be waived by mutual consent of employer and employee. Unless the employee is relieved of all duty during a 30-minute meal period, the meal period will be considered an on-duty meal period and counted as time worked. An on-duty meal period is permitted only when (1) the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty and (2) the employer and employee agree in writing to an on-the-job paid meal period.

Rest Periods:

Every employer must authorize and permit all [covered] employees to take rest periods. To the extent practicable, the rest period must be in the middle of each work period (in the employee’s shift as split by one or more meal periods).

Authorized rest period time is based on the total hours worked daily at the rate of 10 minutes net rest time per four hours or major fraction of four hours.

Exception: A rest period need not be authorized for an employee whose total daily work time is less than three and one-half hours.

Thus in general, a covered employee is entitled to 10 minutes of rest for shifts of three and one-half to six hours, 20 minutes of rest for shifts of more than six and up to 10 hours, 30 minutes of rest for shifts of more than 10 and up to 14 hours, and so on.

Authorized rest period time must be counted as hours worked for which no deduction from wages may be made.

Hours Worked in a Workday

Rest Periods

Meal Periods

Less than 3½ hours

0

0

3½ hours, but not more than 5 hours

1

0

More than 5 hours but not more than 6 hours

1

12

More than 6 hours but not more than 10 hours

2

1

More than 10 hours but not more than 11 hours

3

22

More than 11 hours but not more than 14 hours

3

2

More than 14 hours but not more than 15 hours

4

2

More than 15 hours, but not more than 18 hours

4

32

Notes:

1 Contrary to common belief, IWC Order No. 14-2001 does not mandate that rest periods be 10 minutes in duration. Rather, it specifies an employee is entitled to 10 minutes of net rest time for each four hours worked, or major fraction of four hours, based on total hours worked daily. But as 10-minute rest periods generally mesh well with typical workdays, this table, for simplicity’s sake, assumes that rest periods are 10 minutes in duration.

2 Under IWC Order No. 14-2001, a meal period must be authorized and permitted after a work period of not more than five hours. A work period begins when an employee starts the day’s work shift and when the employee resumes work after each meal period.