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Employers have to be fair with meal periods and breaks

In California, employment laws protect employees from working too much for too little pay or benefits. State wage and hour laws include information on the minimum wage, overtime meals, breaks and rights to employee leave.

Lawsuits filed by employees sometimes include complaints about meal breaks or rest periods at work. Some people are not given breaks or rest periods when the law supports their right to have them.

When do employees deserve breaks?

Employees who work five hours in a row consecutively should receive an unpaid 30-minute break. In the motion picture industry, employees are entitled to a break after six consecutive hours of work. Some employers try to avoid this by working employees 4.75 or 5.75 hours and then having them stay late: Since the employee wasn't scheduled for a full five or six hours, the businesses claim they did not have to provide a break. This is generally incorrect.

When employees work four hours or longer, employers are required to give a break of at least 10 minutes. This must be a paid break. Generally speaking, this break has to be given in the middle of the shift.

What happens if an employer violates the law?

If an employer violates the wage and hour laws, there is a $50 fine for the pay period in which the employee received no breaks or appropriate pay. Additionally, back wages must be paid to the employee. There is another $100 fine for each violation that occurs following the initial violation as determined by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement and Department of Industrial Relations.

People who have their rights violated can turn to their attorneys and state for help. It's an employer's responsibility to give employees appropriate breaks and pay. Failing to do so is a violation of state and federal laws.

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