• Corey Hall, @theemployeeattorney

I’ve worked through my meal break, what am I owed?

It’s a busy day, you may work in food service and have a lot of tables to take care of. You may work as a fabricator and have an unusually high amount of parts to make. Whatever the case may be, you’re very busy. It’s time for a break, or so you thought. Your manager tells you to stay on the floor and keep working. As a team player you go along with this, but surely there must be some incentive? You can’t work through your break without an extra benefit to you, right? Fortunately, you are right.


Your meal break is a right


Before we get into what the benefit is, let’s go over your right to a 30 minute meal break. California law entitles you with the right to take at least one 30 minute meal break if you work over 5 hours a day. This break must be taken no later than the end of the 5th hour.


To be a full-fledged unpaid 30 minute meal break, the break must satisfy all of the following:


  1. You need to be relieved of duty. I.e.; you should not do any work while on your break.

  2. Your employer cannot have any control over your activities - If they demand that you stay on site to take your lunch, then your lunch must be paid.

  3. The break needs to be uninterrupted - they can’t stop you 20 minutes in and tell you to help out a customer or client.

  4. You are not discouraged in taking this meal break




I’ve worked through my meal break, now what?


Kudos to you for working through your meal break, I appreciate the grind; However, now that you’ve done so you are owed some money. There are two scenarios in which you should be paid for working through your break.


Your employer did not give you an opportunity to take a break and the break was missed entirely.


If the break was missed entirely, then you are owed one full hour of pay at your regular rate of pay.


Your employer gave you an opportunity to agree to take an On-Duty Meal Break.


You can be allowed to work through your meal break, but only if certain conditions are met:

  1. Your work prevents you from being relieved of all duty - e.g.: you are the sole worker of a store

  2. You must have a written agreement with your employer

  3. The agreement must be revocable at any time


Working through your meal breaks counts towards your time worked in the day. If you regularly work from 9 am - 5:30pm including a 30 minute lunch, then that’s a total of 8 hours worked. If you’ve missed or worked through your lunch break, then that would put you at a total of 8.5 hours worked that day. This means that you’ve earned half an hour of overtime.


If this is a regular occurrence, then these could add up. Just make sure to file a complaint or lawsuit before 3 years.


I’ve been working through my meal breaks, what do I do next?


If your employer has not been paying you for missed meal breaks or for on-duty meal breaks, then you have the right to take legal action.


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