Is Your Employer Ignoring California’s Rest and Meal Break Laws? How to Win a Lawsuit

Are you being denied proper rest and meal breaks from your employer? California’s rest break laws say all non-exempt employees are entitled to paid and unpaid breaks, depending on the nature of their job and the number of hours they work each day.

Unfortunately, many employers don’t allow workers to take proper breaks and some don’t even get an unpaid meal period. If you’re not getting proper rest or meal breaks, you are entitled to compensation from your employer. If your employer doesn’t compensate you, a lawsuit can be filed.

Rest and meal break violations aren’t hard to prove in court. The Fair Labor Standards Act is clear about how breaks are to be administered. However, you’ll still need to prove your case. Here are some tips to win your case and get compensated for your missed breaks.

California’s Rest and Meal Break Laws

Are You Not Getting Proper Rest and Meal Breaks in California? Here’s What You Need to Do

1. Know when your rights are being violated

The first step is to know when your rights are being violated. Refer to the Department of Labor’s website to see what breaks you’re entitled to receive.

There is no federal law mandating breaks, but each state has its own rest and meal break laws with varying conditions that employers must follow.

In California, rest and meal period violations can result in hefty penalties if the employer has a habit of ignoring employment law. Each day you don’t get your proper breaks, you’re entitled to an extra hour of pay at your regular rate of compensation.

Even if your employer pays you for missed breaks, they might not be in compliance. Your regular rate of compensation may not be equal to your regular rate of pay.

2. Common meal and rest break violations in California

Requiring or expecting employees to work through their paid rest breaks is the most common meal break violation. In retail and food service, some employers force workers to waive their unpaid meal breaks because they don’t want to schedule extra workers.

The following actions are common rest and meal break violations:

  • Managers who interrupt an unpaid 30-minute meal break by asking work-related questions or asking an employee to come back to work five minutes early.
  • Requiring employees to take their breaks in a designated area far from the job site, but starting the clock for their breaks the second they’re told to take a break. In this scenario, the employee ends up losing between 3-5 minutes of each 15-minute paid rest break.
  • Asking employees to take their unpaid 30-minute meal break past their fifth hour and not compensating that employee with an extra hour of pay.

3. Filing a lawsuit? Create thorough documentation

If you’re going to file a lawsuit against your employer for rest and meal break violations, gather as much documentation as possible. Request printed copies of your time cards, work schedules, and collect any other relevant information.

Organized documentation will help your rest breaks lawyer understand exactly how your rights have been violated.

4. Organize your documentation

Information is only useful when it’s organized enough for other people to understand. Attorneys and judges who will become involved in your case haven’t been with you throughout your ordeal, so they don’t know your backstory. They don’t know all of the small details that make up the big picture. Organizing your documentation is how you’ll paint that picture for them.

Here are some organizational tips:

  • Get a 3-ring binder, plastic sheet protectors, and subject dividers. Create separate sections for pay stubs, timesheets, communications, and notes. The court will need quick access to your information, especially your timesheets, to verify whether or not a violation has occurred. This will make it easier to prove rest break laws have been violated.
  • Place your documents in the plastic sheets back-to-back. If you have many documents, skip the plastic sheets. Plastic sheets make it easier to turn pages but might force you to use a second binder. Keep all documentation in one binder whenever possible.
  • To make your case easier to assess, create a spreadsheet that lists the dates you weren’t given proper breaks and list the number of hours worked. The court will still need to calculate your hours to verify your claims, but presenting the information upfront will speed up the process.
  • When including screenshots of emails or text messages, also provide a text-only transcription. The screenshots will prove the communications happened, while the transcript will be easier to read and reference.

5. Listen to your attorney

Listening to your attorney is the most important part of any lawsuit. They’re going to fight to get you as much compensation as possible for all the meal and rest breaks you’ve missed.

Since your case will most likely settle out of court, take your lawyer’s advice during negotiations and don’t hold out rejecting offers for too long. Lawyers know when they can’t take negotiations any further.

Last, but not least, don’t stress. Once you get your settlement check, you won’t have to think about the situation ever again.

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