Q: If I am forced to work more than 6 hours before getting my lunch break in California is that illegal?
It was recently brought to my attention that California law demands a lunch before hitting the sixth hour unless agreed upon by both parties. I have never "agreed" to work more than that without my lunch it was told to me that was the expectation. I have been working like this for most of the last year and a half but just really had it spelled out for me today. My confusion is I am still getting a lunch break, but is isn't until after the 6th hour many times. I work in the video game industry not motion pictures, no papers have been signed to agree to extended hours before the lunch, and I have never been asked to agree it was always just assumed that was the norm.
A: In California, a non-exempt employee is entitled to a reasonable opportunity to take a 30-minute, off-the-clock, uninterrupted and duty free meal period any time they work more than 5 hours in a shift. That meal period should be provided before the beginning of the 6th hour. If you work only 6 hours and no longer, you and the employer can agree to waive the meal period. If you work more than 6 hours, no waiver is allowed unless it is practically impossible for you to get a meal period, and then the waiver must be signed AND you get paid an additional hour of time to compensate for the working lunch you must take. There is no waiver that lets you simply take your meal period after the 6th hour begins.
The law says that a non-compliant meal period is the same as no meal period. If you are not provided a compliant meal period you are entitled to one hour of pay as a wage penalty, in addition to the hours you worked that day. That is true even if you ultimately got a meal period after the beginning of the 6th hour of work. You are entitled to that one our penalty for each day you were denied a completely compliant meal period.
It might make good sense for you to locate and consult with an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible to explore your facts and determine your options. I would suggest you look either on this site, or go to www.cela.org, the home page for the California Employment Lawyers Association, an organization whose members are dedicated to the representation of employees against their employers.
Most employment attorneys who practice this area of law work offer a free or low cost consultation in the beginning and then, if the matter has merit and value, will usually agree to work on a contingency basis, meaning you can hire an attorney without paying any money until the matter results in a positive outcome for you. Many advance all the costs of the litigation as well. Do not let fear of fees and costs keep you from finding a good attorney.
Good luck to you.
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