California Meal and Rest Break Requirements for Employees Working Remotely

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ADP and the California Labor Commissioner's Office are collaborating on a special series of webinars designed to help businesses understand wage and hour laws in California. As part of this partnership, we are working together to answer questions that we have received from our attendees. This initial article relates to the timely question of meal and rest break requirements for employees working remotely.

Compliance with California Labor laws may not be a foremost concern as businesses struggle to remain in operation with most or all employees working from home. But businesses need to be mindful, especially now that such Working from Home (WFH) arrangements seem likely to persist for months, if not years.

As an example, employers remain responsible and liable for ensuring that meal and rest breaks are taken and meal periods are recorded on time records even with respect to employees who are working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under California law, when an employee works for a work period of more than five hours, an uninterrupted meal period of at least thirty minutes must be provided no later than the end of the employee's fifth hour of work; and when an employee works for a period of more than 10 hours, a second meal period must be provided no later than the end of the employee's tenth hour of work. The employee must be relieved of all duty during his or her meal period or the meal period is counted as hours worked and compensated at the employee's regular rate of pay. Additionally, meal period premium pay is required for each workday that the meal period is not provided. The premium pay is also due if the meal period is interrupted by work and another 30-minute uninterrupted period is not provided. Meal period rules may be subject to certain waivers by mutual consent in limited instances. In addition, an "on duty" meal period may be allowed where certain elements are met, including that the nature of the work prevents an off-duty meal period. Finally, different rules may apply to employees under certain Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders (Wage Orders).

Wage Orders also require that employers must authorize and permit nonexempt employees to take a rest period that must, insofar as practicable, 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, or major fraction thereof. If an employer does not authorize or permit the required rest period, the employer must pay the employee one hour of pay at the employee's regular rate of pay for each workday that rest period is not provided.

In short, even in this COVID-19 environment, California employers must exercise careful diligence and control in administering required meal and rest periods as well as other Wage and Hour requirements. California employers should consult with appropriate advisors and carefully review their meal and rest break policies, taking action as needed to issue reminders and other measures to ensure that meal and rest break requirements are observed, specifically with respect to employees working from home.

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