Omid Nosrati

A closer look at on duty meal periods

Last week, our blog began discussing how workers here in California must understand that the 30 minutes allocated to them for lunch are much more than just a welcome reprieve from the rigors of the workday, but rather a right under state law. 

Specifically, we explored how employees must be given a single unpaid 30-minute lunch break or "meal period" if they work more than five hours per day and a second if they work more than 10 hours per day, as well as the circumstances under which the right to either can be waived. In today's post, we'll continue with these efforts by examining the very import concept of the "on duty" meal period.

Meal periods: On duty

In general, if an employee is completely relieved of all duties -- both active and inactive -- and free to leave their designated workplace for at least 30 minutes, the meal period is not counted toward their hours worked or, in other words, unpaid.

If these conditions are not met, however, the meal period is considered "on duty," and the affected worker entitled to compensation as measured by their regular pay rate.

California law dictates that on duty meal period agreements are permissible, but only where 1) the nature of the employee's work prevents him or her from being completely relieved of all duties, and 2) there is a written agreement declaring that the employer and employee have agreed to the on-the-job paid meal period.

In order for the written agreement to be considered valid, however, it must expressly dictate that the employee may rescind the agreement, in writing, at any time.

It's worth noting that the issue of whether the nature of the employee's work prevents him or her from being completely relieved of all duties is an objective inquiry, meaning whether any employee would be similarly unable to be completely relieved of all duties owing to the nature of the work.

By way of example, employees who would likely execute valid on duty meal agreements include security guards posted to remote locations, convenience store workers working overnight shifts alone, or sole kiosk workers.

Here's hoping the foregoing information has proven helpful. As always, please remember to consider speaking with an experienced legal professional if you believe your employer has violated the law concerning meal periods or your wages.

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Omid Nosrati
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