Unpaid Breaks

Employer Refusing To Pay What You’re Owed? We Can Help.

Do you feel your employer doesn’t pay you for your meal or rest breaks or doesn’t allow you to take them? Or do they unfairly ask you to pay for work-related expenses but not reimburse you for these items?

Under California labor law, your employer is responsible for providing you with mandatory meal/rest breaks and paying you for any reasonable out-of-pocket expenses required to do your job. At Colby Law Firm, we understand that it can be difficult to understand the intricacies of employment law. That’s why we’re here to help.

Colby Law Firm will closely examine your case and listen to your concerns to ensure you are provided with your legally required breaks and that items such as office supplies, vehicle usage, mobile phone charges, equipment, and uniforms are properly reimbursed by your employer. We will diligently work to get you the money you deserve! When looking for a Los Angeles break and reimbursement lawyer, contact Colby Law Firm.

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Understanding Mealbreaks: How Much Meal Time Are Hourly Employees Entitled To?

Hourly employees are entitled to meal breaks. Most California workers are entitled to one (1) uninterrupted 30-minute, unpaid meal break when working more than five hours in a day. An additional 30-minute unpaid meal break is required when working more than 12 hours in a day.

The first meal period must begin no later than the end of the 5th hour of work/start of the 6th hour of work, and the second meal period must begin no later than the end of the 10th hour of work/start of the 11th hour of work.

Employers must record the start and end times of each meal break. Simply noting a 30-minute break is not enough.

When are meal breaks paid?

An “on duty” meal break is when the employee must remain on the employer’s premises or job site during the break. These breaks must be paid.

An “on-duty” meal break is permitted only when (1) the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty, (2) it is agreed to in writing by the employer and the employee, and (3) it is paid. This agreement can be revoked at any time in writing by the employee. Otherwise, it is an illegal on-duty meal break, triggering one hour of premium pay.

Are There Exceptions to Meal Break Rules?

Yes, special rules apply to certain industries, such as ambulance, construction, logging, residential care, healthcare, motion pictures, broadcast, wholesale baking, and union employees covered by collective bargaining agreements.

Understand Restbreaks: How Much Rest Time Are Hourly Employees Entitled To?

Hourly employees are entitled to rest breaks based on the number of hours they work. These breaks must be at least 10 “net” minutes for every four hours worked or the “major fraction thereof.” A “major fraction” is considered anything more than two hours. The timing for rest breaks varies depending on the total hours worked in a day:

  • 3.5 – 6 hours: one paid 10-minute rest period
  • 6 – 10 hours: two paid 10-minute rest periods
  • 10 -14 hours: three paid 10-minute rest periods

Suitable Resting Facilities
California employers must offer suitable resting facilities separate from toilet rooms, accessible to employees during working hours.

Rest Breaks without On-call Requirements
Employees cannot be required to remain “on-call” during rest breaks. Employers must provide uninterrupted breaks, relieving employees of all duties and relinquishing control over how they spend their break time.

Compensation for Rest Breaks (Piece Rate and Hourly Commission Employees)
Employers must ensure that employees with specific compensation plans are paid separately for rest breaks. This includes piece rate employees and commissioned sales employees, even if their commission plan ensures they receive more than the minimum wage for every hour worked.

Lactation Rest Breaks
Employers must provide reasonable break time and a private place for employees to express breast milk.

Premium Pay: What Happens When Your Employer Requires You To Miss a Break

When your employer requires you to miss a break, it’s important to understand your rights and the potential consequences for your employer. California law mandates that employers provide meal and rest breaks to hourly employees. If they fail to do so, they may be required to pay you additional compensation, known as premium pay.

Break Violation Compensation

If an employer fails to provide a meal or rest break, they must pay the employee an extra hour of pay at the employee’s regular hourly rate. Employees can earn up to one extra hour per workday for missed rest periods and an additional one hour per workday for missed meal breaks.

Pay for Work During Breaks

If an employer provides appropriate meal and rest periods, but an employee chooses to work anyway, the employer must pay for the time worked. However, they won’t be liable for “premium pay” (commonly referred to as meal or rest period penalties), unless the employer causes the employee to miss a meal or rest period due to scheduling or other needs.

Reimbursement of Necessary Business Expenses for Employees

Employers in California are required to reimburse employees for all necessary expenses directly related to performing their duties or following employer directions (Labor Code § 2802). Employee rights to reimbursement cannot be waived or released, and any contract attempting to do so is void (Labor Code § 2804). Employers are required to reimburse the employee as soon as they know about the expense.

Here are the rules around reimbursement for specific expenses:

  • Mileage: Employers can reimburse employees for mileage at or below the IRS rate, as long as it covers all actual expenses, including gas, wear and tear, maintenance, and insurance. Reimbursements beyond the IRS rate may be taxable as wages if they exceed actual expenses.
  • Uniforms: Employers must provide and maintain uniforms if they require distinctive design, color, or apparel that isn’t used by employees working similar jobs for other employers. Employers must reimburse maintenance expenses for uniforms that aren’t wash-and-wear.
  • Training: Generally, employers must reimburse the cost of required training courses. However, they aren’t required to reimburse for the cost of basic training or licensing required by law for specific professions. If an employer requires additional specialized training, they must reimburse the employee for those expenses.
  • Mobile Devices & Internet: Employers must reimburse employees for work-related calls on personal cell phones, even if the employee doesn’t incur extra expenses. A portion of personal mobile phone bills and internet expenses must be compensated if the cost is a “reasonable reimbursement for the mandatory use of personal devices.”

Remote Work Reimbursements

Reimbursement for remote work expenses depends on whether the telework arrangement and related expenses are optional (i.e., not necessary for performing job duties or available in the office). Employers that require remote work must provide or reimburse employees for all necessary expenses incurred in the remote work setting.

 These expenses can include:

  • Computer/laptop
  • Internet
  • Mobile devices, apps, or software
  • Printers/scanners
  • Office supplies (e.g., pens, paper, printer cartridges)
  • Ergonomic office furniture

Internet and phone expenses incurred by remote workers are not considered “necessary” expenses for reimbursement when:

  • The telework arrangement is optional.
  • The employer provides physical workspaces in the corporate office with computers, phones, and other necessary equipment for employees to perform work.
  • The employer approves employee schedules that split time between working from home and in the office (Novak v. Boeing Co., 2011 WL 9160940 (C.D. Cal. July 20, 2011)).

Frequently Asked Questions

Does My Employer Have To Pay for My Internet if I Work Remotely?

If your employer has mandated that you work remotely then they are required to pay your Internet as well as other necessary home office expenses. This will normally be a reasonable percentage of the your phone, internet, utility bills, and office supplies if you purchased those supply items specifically for working remotely.

However, if you are working remotely by choice then your employer is not required to reimburse you for any home office expenses. The test for reimbursement is whether you have the option to work from home.

Can My Employer Limit My Travel Time/Time Off on Unpaid Breaks?

In California, the Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders require that employers must authorize and permit nonexempt employees to take a rest period that must be taken in the middle of each work period. The rest period is based on the total hours worked daily and must be at the minimum rate of a net ten consecutive minutes for each four hour work period and cannot be limited.

Do I Have To Take an Unpaid Meal Break?

In California, an employer cannot ask you to work for more than five hours without providing you with an unpaid, off-duty meal break. The meal break must be at least 30 minutes. The first meal period must be provided no later than the end of the employee’s fifth hour of work. However, there are some caveats to this.

One example is that an employer and employee can agree mutually that the meal break will be waived, but only if the employee’s shift is six hours or less.There must be mutual consent of both the employer and employee.

The employer would be in violation of the California Labor Code if they required you to work during your meal break or through it and would owe you compensation and possibly even premium or overtime pay. If this has been happening to you then you should contact Colby Law Firm for a free and confidential consultation. We can review the information with you and help you determine your best course of action. Having Colby Law Firm on your side is your best course of action.


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Colby Law Firm

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Aaron Colby is a California employment lawyer who knows how to resolve disputes. After 15 years representing companies, he started Colby Law Firm to represent employees. Aaron’s perspective and experience from being “on the other side” gives him an edge. Aaron brings his practical, focused, and relentless approach to helping employees protect their rights.

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Aaron Colby
Lead Attorney and Founder Colby Law