Woman eating at her work desk

Can I Get Paid for Missed Meals and Break Periods?

California workers are entitled to compensation for meal and break periods thanks to a state Supreme Court decision.

In July 2021, the California Supreme Court ruled that employers must pay employees for missed meal and rest periods at a rate that takes into account all nondiscretionary income. This means that employees are to be paid at a rate that is equivalent to their normal hourly rate, as well as any tips or bonuses they may have received during that time.

Ferra v. Loews Hollywood Hotel

The decision from the California Supreme Court stems from an initial hearing of Ferra v. Loews Hollywood Hotel. Jessica Ferra worked at Loews Hollywood Hotel as a bartender. She was a non-exempt employee who earned an hourly wage and quarterly nondiscretionary incentive payments such as bonuses. While Ferra was paid her normal hourly rate for her rest periods, she argued that she should be getting paid premiums as well as for tips and bonuses she lost out on making while on her break.

The trial court ruled in Loews’ favor, but Ferra took the ruling to an appellate court. The appellate court upheld the trial court’s ruling, so Ferra took her case to the California Supreme Court. On July 15, the state Supreme Court ruled in Ferra’s favor, saying that non-exempt employees should receive nondiscretionary payments in addition to their hourly rate of pay during meal or rest breaks.

California Break Laws

The required break laws for the state are as follows:

  • Working 0-3.5 hours: 0 break
  • Working 3.5-6 hours: 1 break
  • Working 6.01-10 hours: 2 breaks
  • Working 10.01-14 hours: 3 breaks
  • Working 14.01-18 hours: 4 breaks

A break is defined as ten consecutive minutes that are not interrupted. Rest breaks are intended to be in the middle of a work period so that if a person is entitled to a meal break, the two breaks do not necessarily coincide. An employee is not required to stay on their work premises during their break and can not be required to do any work during their break. However, an employee - by their own choice - can forgo their break as long as their employer isn’t encouraging or forcing them to do so.

Meal breaks for California are defined as the following:

  • Working 0-5 hours: 0 break
  • Working 5.01-10 hours: 1 break
  • Working 10.01-15 hours: 2 breaks
  • Working 15.01-20 hours: 3 breaks
  • Working 20.01-beyond: 4 breaks

When an employee is entitled to a meal break, they are to be given at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted time where they are not expected or required to do any work. The meal break must be taken before the end of the fifth hour of the employee’s workday; however, if they do not work more than six hours a day, then they can ask to have that break waived. Meal breaks can also be taken during what’s considered “on-duty” if the employee and boss agree upon it, and that employee would still get compensated for the break. Just as with other breaks, employees are not required to stay at their place of employment for that break.

It’s imperative to note that with any break, it is usually the employee’s responsibility to ensure their break is taken. An employer’s job is to ensure that the breaks are available to employees, but it lies on the employee themself to make sure they take that break.

When to Contact Cohelan Khoury & Singer

If your California employer is not providing you the proper compensation for your breaks under the new ruling from the state Supreme Court, or your employer is not giving you the opportunity to have a mandated break, then contact Cohelan Khoury & Singer. Our attorneys have helped thousands get adequately compensated for their workers’ rights and we will work hard on your case too. Contact us today by filling out our online form or by calling us at (800) 724-4157.