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How to Avoid Common Break Tracking Mistakes in California?

Samson Kiarie
Last update on:
December 7, 2023 3:49 PM
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California has some of the most complex labor laws among all states in the United States. The complexity often leads to misinterpretation, which in turn causes businesses to contravene the regulations. Several California employers have been to court for violating the rest and lunch break law.

The California justice system has compelled companies like Wells Fargo to compensate employees for break violations. The compensation, which can be to the tune of thousands or millions of dollars, can eat away at your company's profits. Read on if you don't want to steer your company into a legal ditch.

In this guide, we'll look at some of the most common break-tracking mistakes in California and how to avoid them. In addition, we'll show you how California businesses leverage Timeero's California Break Tracker to stay out of legal trouble. Let's dive in.

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Learn all you need to know about California Breaks Compliance from the video above.

What Are California Rules on Breaks?

The California break law has two facets — Meal and rest periods — each with unique stipulations. You can read our comprehensive guide on the California break laws, but if you're short on time, here are the highlights: 

Unpaid Meal Period Law

The California Labor Code section 512 and IWC Orders require employers to give non-exempt employees a non-paid meal break of not less than 30 minutes if their daily shift is more than five hours. Moreover, employees working over 10 hours daily are entitled to a second non-paid meal break of at least 30 minutes. 

During the meal period, you should relieve employees of all work-related duties. In addition, you should relinquish control over employee activities and can't require them to remain on-site. In other words, employees can do whatever they want during the meal, provided it's not work-related. 

Paid Rest Break Law

Employees are entitled to one 10-minute rest break for every four hours worked or a major portion thereof. A major portion is equivalent to two hours. This means employees working more than six hours a day should get two rest breaks. 

 

For example, employees working an 8-hour shift are entitled to two rest breaks. However, if employees work up to three and a half hours a day, they aren't entitled to a rest break. 

Consequences of Violating Break Laws in California

timeero time tracking app
Timeero time clock records employee work hours in real-time and is easy to use for all employees.

Failing to provide a meal period or violating it in any way whatsoever attracts the premium pay — the meal break penalty. In other words, if you violate the meal break, you owe employees compensation equivalent to one hour of pay at their regular hourly rate for each violated lunch break. Learn more about our California meal penalty or cost of not tracking breaks articles. 

Likewise, violating the rest break attracts compensation equivalent to employees' hours of pay at the regular rate. However, the rest break violation attracts a one-hour penalty per workday, not per missed rest break. 

For example, if you fail to provide the two rest breaks in an 8-hour shift, you should compensate employees a fee equivalent to one hour of pay, not two hours.

The employer may choose an out-of-court settlement in case of break violation. However, if you fail to strike an amicable truce with the employees, they may pursue compensation via a class action. If the employees prove the case, the court may compel you to pay legal fees besides the premium pay

How to Avoid Common California Break Tracking Mistakes

You have to adjust your policies and systems to avoid common break-tracking mistakes. In this section, we'll highlight each mistake, why it happens, and how to tweak procedures or implement new systems to prevent it. 

Track Employee Work Hours Including Breaks

The number one mistake is providing rest and meal breaks per the law but failing to record them on employee timesheets. 

The California break laws require you to record meal breaks for all non-exempt employees. In other words, the employee timecard entries should include the following details:

  • Employee clock-in and out times
  • Meal period start and end times 

Besides enabling you to adhere to California break rules, documenting meal periods hedges your company against future legal disputes. 

If an employee makes a false accusation, and you have no proof that you provided the meal period (in full), you can be forced to compensate them. Bear in mind that in the Donohue v. AMN Services LLC case, the Supreme Court stated that time entries for meal periods that are inaccurate or incomplete instigate "rebuttable presumption of break infraction."

On the other hand, no stipulation requires you to track the rest break. Remember that the rest break is regarded as "on the clock" as it's paid. Even so, put in place a policy compelling employees to report missed rest breaks with genuine reasons for the violation. Compensate employees for the missed break and record it. 

Also, when tracking meal breaks, toggle off time rounding. As the Supreme Court stated in the Donohue v. AMN Services LLC, California law prohibits employers from using time rounding policies when tracking meal breaks. 

How Timeero California Break Tracker Helps

 timeero California break tracker 
Timeero 's California Breaks Tracker helps you adhere to California breaks laws and other state laws.

Timeero California Break Tracker ensures employee timecard has relevant details. When you open an employee time card, you can click "view breaks" to find all information regarding the California breaks. The app records the break start and end times as the California break law requires. 

In addition, it prevents employees from ending their break early, ensuring each meal break is at least 30 minutes.

For example, if an employee starts the meal break at 13:00 and tries to end it at 13:28, the app won't let them. Instead, it sends them a message "You cannot end your break early. Wait till the minimum break time is exceeded before ending your break." This ensures all employees take the legally mandated time and nothing less.   

Don't Deduct Meal Period When Not Taken

Another mistake California employers make is deducting meal periods from employee timesheets when not taken. You shouldn't deduct meal periods when not taken; instead, you should process the timesheet as is. 

As the Supreme Court stated in the Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court lawsuit, if you relinquish control over employee activities but know or have reason to know the employee was working during the meal period, you have not violated your meal obligation.

 

As a result, you owe the employee no premium pay. Nonetheless, you should compensate the employee for time worked at a regular hourly rate. In other words, you should compensate the employee for the 30 minutes and don't need to deduct them from their paid work hours. 

Moreover, employees are entitled to overtime pay as a result of working through the meal period. Deducting the meal period from employee work time would hinder accurate overtime calculations when the pay period elapses.

How Does Timeero Help?

Don't push yourself into a conundrum where you have to decide whether to deduct missed lunch breaks. Instead, create policies that compel employees to take meal breaks in strict conformity with California laws. 

In addition, use Timeero and configure the California Break Tracker. The tracker ensures that all employees take their meal breaks by the law. As mentioned, the employee can't end their break early, meaning no meal period will be shorter than 30 minutes.

Maintain Optimal Staffing Levels

Another common California break mistake is employers failing to provide rest and meal breaks. This is a 'rookie mistake,' and it occurs when an employer isn't conversant with the breaking laws in California.

However, some employers are familiar with stipulations in the California break law but find themselves on the black book. More often than not, these employers are driven into the legal ditch by circumstances, and understaffing is the number one culprit. 

Take an example of a call center that's usually busy in the morning and evening. If the call center doesn't have enough human resources, the manager could prohibit part of the workforce from taking a rest or lunch break when the lines are brimming with customer requests.

To avoid landing in a tight spot, maintain optimal staffing levels for each shift. This way, you don't have to prohibit employees from taking breaks or coerce them to take shorter breaks to hit the daily targets. 

Use Timeero Scheduling

timeero pto management
Timeero enables employees to request and track their PTO approval on a mobile device.

Sometimes, poor employee scheduling is a precursor for frequent understaffing during shifts. If you're struggling to build flexible schedules or manage employee time offs, we recommend using Timeero scheduling. 

It streamlines scheduling, enabling you to sidestep understaffing and its resultant break-law infractions. For example, when you publish or update employee schedules, the assigned workers get instant notification and can accept or reject the changes.

  

Managers can iron out schedule conflicts as the employees accept or reject schedule changes. Even better, Timeero streamlines employee leave and paid time off (PTO) management to minimize the chances of employee no-shows. 

Don't Combine Breaks and Meal Periods

If you're in industries with unpredictable customer flow, such as the healthcare sector, you might be tempted to combine rest and meal breaks. 

For example, it's common for a medical office to experience an unpredictable morning and afternoon. In this case, you might allow employees to combine rest and meal breaks and take them during the off-peak hours. However, combining both breaks is a violation.

Remember, the California break laws stipulate that employees must take a 10-minute break every four hours worked. The rest break should be as close to the middle of a four-hour work period as possible. Taking the rest break with the meal period is a violation because that would mean taking the rest break after the four-hour period.

 

Timeero Scheduling Can Help

The solution to this problem lies in proper scheduling. Using the medical center example, you have data regarding the average number of patients your center serves on the busy mornings and afternoons. Use this data to estimate how many staff you need per shift to get the queues moving without violating employee break law. 

With this information, build your shift schedule on Timeero and share it with relevant employees beforehand. As employees accept or reject the schedule, make adjustments to ensure each shift — morning or afternoon — has the correct staffing numbers.  

Don't Waive Meal Break for 8-Hour Shift

The California break law allows employers and employees to waive meal breaks via mutual consent. However, there are other conditions.

 

First and foremost, a signed agreement must be signed for the waiver to be legally binding. The agreement should state that the employee retains exclusive rights to revoke it at any time via writing. 

Secondly, you can waive the first meal break only if the employee shift is six hours or less. For example, you cannot waive the meal break if an employee works an eight-hour shift. This is where many businesses in California get it wrong. 

Have Employees Sign Their Timesheets Daily

Lastly, suppose you have a proper timekeeping policy and time-tracking software in place. In that case, the primary issue becomes whether you know or have reason to know employees violate the break laws. 

Let's say you provide the 30-minute meal break, relinquish control over employee activities, and relieve them of all work-related duties. You've laid a firm foundation for compliance with the California break regulations. 

However, if the California employees engage in work-related activities, you could still be forced to compensate them despite your effective complaint procedure. 

As the Supreme Court explained in the Brinker case, you have not violated your meal period obligations in such a case. That said, if you know or have a way to know employees are working during the meal period, you owe them compensation for the total hours worked. 

timeero employee sinature
Your employees can now sign and confirm their breaks, hours and mileage on their timesheets.

To exonerate yourself from blame, you should ask employees to attest to their meal and rest breaks by signing a form certifying that they have taken the break per the law. This is where the Timeero daily sign-off form comes in handy.

  

How Does Timeero Daily Sign-Off Form Work?

timeero daily sign-off form
The daily sign-off form helps ascertain that employees have taken the required breaks or waived them in accordance with the break law. 

The daily sign-off form is your hedge against false allegations that you didn't provide rest and meal breaks.

When an employee works more than four hours, Timeero won't let them clock out before they sign the form. The daily sign-off form pops up automatically when the employee selects "clock out" on the Timeero app. 

The form has two questions with "yes" or "no" answers:

  • Did you adhere to the California meal break policy?
  • Did you adhere to the California rest break policy?

The questions compel employees to acknowledge whether they used their breaks or waived them in conformity with California break law. You can see the expected break time based on employee work hours and the time spent on break. The employee also provides the reasons for not taking a rest or meal break.

Only the employee can edit the sign-off form. For example, if the employee's reason for non-compliance is false and makes your company culpable, you can ask the employee to edit the form. However, the form is not editable after seven days, so you have to review the forms within seven days of submission. 

Stay Out of Legal Trouble With Timeero California Break Tool

We have highlighted six mistakes California employers make and what you need to do to avoid them. Be sure to seek legal counsel from a practitioner with solid experience in California labor laws and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In addition, invest in a software stack that enables you to enforce the California break laws. 

If you're getting started, we recommend using the Timeero time tracking app. The apps sport the California Break Tracker that features the vital features you need to avoid the California break tracking mistakes we highlighted. 

Take the Timeero California break tool for a risk-free whirl for 14 days.

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AUTHOR
Samson Kiarie

Samson is a mathematician turned content marketer specializing in SaaS and Tech content. He focuses on the practical aspects of software systems while keeping abreast of the industry’s cutting-edge principles to create informative and engaging content. When he’s not writing, Samson spends time playing or watching soccer.

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