It's important for employees to get appropriate meal and rest breaks. Just like drinking enough water prevents dehydration, getting enough breaks for food and rest help avoid accidents on the job.
Employees need to be treated kindly and fairly in the workplace. Just because an employer can work someone 12 hours straight doesn't mean he or she should. In fact, the Fair Labor Standards Act doesn't require employers to give employees breaks for meals. The catch is that California's state laws do.
What does California require employers to provide in terms of breaks?
California law only requires employers to give employees a paid 10-minute break once every four hours. Employers do not have to provide a break if you work 3.5 hours or less in one shift or in split shifts.
Some industries and professions are not covered by this law. For example, sheepherders, personal attendants, and professional actors may be entitled to more rest breaks. Employers do have a right to seek an exemption for their employees, so some may go without breaks because of potential hardship for the employer.
Should you be paid for any time spent on break?
The kind of break you're on matters. If you're taking a meal break, it's not considered part of your workday and therefore does not necessarily result in pay. However, the employer must show that employees are relieved of duty during the meal break. Employees who have to eat in the office or at their desks may still be in a position to work and should receive payment for the times when they eat.
Employment laws vary by state and federally, so they can become complicated. It's important to look out for your rights. No employer should treat employees in a manner that's against the law. By knowing your right to a meal or rest break, you can protect yourself.