Why California Businesses Need to Properly Document Breaks and Lunch Hours

Kim Solis | Mar 25, 2022 | minute read

time-clockLike most California labor laws, the state’s laws regarding meal and rest times are confusing to follow. Should you break them, you’ll be penalized with potentially significant fines. In fact, Wells Fargo has paid out $97.2 million to employees because of its violations.

To help you stay on the right side of the law, here are some things you need to know about documenting breaks and lunch hours. 

What Are California Meal and Rest Break Rules?

The meal and rest break rules specify the amount of time employees must be given to rest and eat, if these breaks are paid, and how many hours an employee must work in a given day before they’re entitled to them. 

Your employees must be given one ten-minute paid rest break for every four hours of work and one 30-minute unpaid meal break for every five hours of work. 

Blog Article - Why California Businesses Need to Properly Document Breaks and Lunch Hours

If an employee works less than 4 hours but more than 3.5 hours, the law states that the employer should round up the hours worked to four.

What Types of Employees Are Exempt From Break Documentation?

Not all employees are covered under these laws. Some exempt employees include:

  • White-collar workers who:
    • Spend more than half of their work time doing intellectual, managerial or creative work; and 
    • Regularly exercise discretion and independent judgment in performing those duties; 
    •  Earn a monthly salary equivalent to at least twice the California minimum wage for full-time employment.
  • Independent contractors—those working independently who do not meet the state definition of an employee. Be careful with this one, as the line between independent contractor and employee can get murky.
  •  Unionized employees who have collective bargaining agreements in place that contradict the California schedule

Any employees who do not fall into any of the above categories are entitled to their breaks.

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What Could Happen if Breaks Are Not Documented?

Documenting breaks is meant to protect you as the employer. If an employee claims you denied them breaks and you have no documentation to verify that you, in fact, gave them their legally mandated time, you’ll be forced to pay them two hours of wages for every day you’re alleged to have denied them their time. Documenting reduces your liability should someone make a false accusation.


What to Do if an Employee Had to Work During a Mandated Break

Sometimes, it isn’t possible for employees to take their break at the expected time. For example, a nurse might be assisting in an emergency surgery or a truck driver may be on the road and unable to stop at the right time. 

The law does allow for exceptional cases such as these, assuming the employer and employee both agree to delay the break. The agreement must be in writing and state that the employee can cancel the agreement. Also, the employee must be paid for the time worked.

In cases like this, it’s best to consult with a labor lawyer to ensure you’re taking the best course of action based on how the law is written, otherwise, you’re leaving yourself open to lawsuits.

Actionable Tips for Keeping Track of Employees’ Time

Knowing that breaks and lunch hours need to be documented is one thing. Putting this knowledge into practice is another. As an employer, you can’t directly supervise employees at all times. However, there are things you can do to increase the accuracy of your time tracking.

  • Use a time tracking app, requiring employees to check in at a specific time to mark that they’re going on or off break.
  •  Opt for a project management system that will automatically check in with employees at their break times to let them know it’s time to rest or have their meal.
  • Should an employee request to waive a break, allow this only occasionally and demand that the request be put in writing.
  • Get your managers on board. They should be monitoring employees and ensuring that they’re taking their breaks as directed by the law.
  • Return to a more traditional system of clocking in and out.

Ultimately, most employees will be happy to take their breaks, so they’re likely to work with you on the process.

How Insurance Can Help With an Hour and Wage Claim

If an employee does file suit against you for denying them break time, your business insurance policy should be able to help you. Contact your company as soon as possible to speed up the process. Liability coverage gives you access to lawyers needed to fight your case. Keep in mind, though, that without the proper documentation, it might not be a case you can win, which is why documenting these breaks is critical.


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About The Author

As the Employee Benefit’s Department Manager at Leap | Carpenter | Kemps Insurance Agency, I use my 20 years of insurance expertise and background in Human Resources Management to find the best policies for both business owners and their employees.

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