Time Tracking

Costs of Not Tracking Employee Breaks in California

David Kariuki
Last update on:
April 18, 2024 1:51 AM
Published on:

Are you providing enough meals and rest breaks for your employees?

California Labor laws require employers to provide employees with breaks and time off throughout their shifts. Failure to comply could result in expensive litigation and significant fines. 

For instance, from 2018, Wells Fargo has paid out $97.2 million to employees for rest break violations. 

No doubt, California’s additional labor laws are the country’s most stringent, making them challenging for employers to keep up with all the necessary regulations. But there is a way around it to ensure you comply and avoid hefty fines. 

In this guide, we will explore the state’s rules on meal and rest breaks, the cost of not tracking employee breaks in California, and the best practices to avoid legal issues.

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What Are California Labor Law Meal and Rest Breaks Requirements

First, it’s essential to understand the difference between meal and rest breaks. Meal breaks typically last at least 30 minutes and are usually unpaid. On the other hand, rest breaks last for 10 minutes, and employers must pay employees for these shorter breaks.

California’s meal and rest rules specify how long employees must be allowed to rest and eat. This includes the number of hours an employee works in a day before they’re entitled to them.

timeero california break policy settings
Timeero lets you enforce California Break Policy

Meal Break Requirements in California

It’s important to note that California meal break rules apply to non-exempt employees once they work shifts that exceed a certain number of hours.

Here is the breakdown for meal breaks based on hours worked:

  • Less than 5 hours - No meal period
  • 5 to 10 hours - One 30-minute meal break unpaid
  • Over 10 hours - Two 30-minute meal breaks unpaid 

Meal breaks must be taken before the end of the fifth hour of a shift. During the break, the employee is free to stay on-site or leave the premises. 

Failure to provide or track employee breaks in California can result in legal action and financial penalties, which we will discuss later. 

Rest Breaks Requirements in California

Under the California Labor Code Regulations, rest breaks must be 10 minutes for every four hours worked or a major fraction of that.

Here is the breakdown for rest break requirements as per California law:

  • Less than three and a half hours - No rest break
  • 3.5 to 6 hrs - One 10-minute paid rest period
  • 6 to 10 hours - Two 10-minute paid rest breaks 
  • 10 to 14 hours - Three 10-minute rest breaks

Check out our detailed guide on California Break Laws to learn more about the requirements, or watch the webinar recording below.

What Happens If Employees Don’t Take Breaks?

If employees fail to take breaks as labor law requires, several consequences may arise for both the employer and employees. The effect may vary depending on the specific jurisdiction and labor laws applicable to the workplace. 

Here is a summary of what would happen if employees didn’t take breaks in California. We will look at all the implications in detail in the next section.

  • Legal penalty to employers known as premium pay for missed breaks
  • Lawsuits and employee claims
  • Overtime pay and wage concerns
  • Employer reputation damage

Not tracking employee breaks in California can lead to the same consequences. Without evidence that your employees took their meal and rest breaks according to the law, your company may face serious legal issues.

What Is the Primary Penalty for Missed Rest Breaks in California?

Some employers may fail to provide employees with meals and rest breaks or keep proper documentation of these breaks out of ignorance. Others may do it as a way to save money. 

In case an employer fails to provide employees with meal and rest breaks, California law requires them to compensate them as follows:

Meal penalty: One hour’s wages paid at the regular hourly rate for every workday without a meal break.

Rest penalty: One additional hour’s wage for every day without a rest break at the regular hourly rate.

This additional pay is known as premium pay for every workday with a meal break violation.

If the employer fails to pay the premium pay, this may attract more penalties with a few options that the employee can resort to, as we shall highlight in the next section.

Additional Penalties for Non-Compliance With California Employment Laws

But paying the premium pay for missed breaks is not the worst thing that can happen if you don’t comply with California Break laws. 

Non-compliance can lead to lawsuits and even more financial losses, as we shall explore in this section.

Financial Penalties

Fines are among California’s most common penalties for violating employment break laws. The fines depend on a few factors, including the company’s size, the number of workers, and how much the company is penalized. 

One example is Rodriguez v. E.M.E., Inc., a case where a metal finishing shop gave its employees a single 20-minute break in the morning instead of two separate 10-minute rest periods. The company’s management claimed that both employers and management preferred this practice because it helped them increase productivity by reducing the downtime when starting and stopping production for every break.

A former employee filed a class-action complaint against the company, indicating that this rest break practice violated California break laws. In this case, the employee argued that the break laws required that the employer provide two separate 10-minute rest breaks during an 8-hour work shift, one break before the lunch break and one after. 

The court ruled that California employers should not combine the required 10-minute rest periods into one larger rest. This decision served to further clarify the Califonia Supreme Court’s decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court.

Class Action Lawsuits

Lawsuits are one of the penalties that employers may face for non-compliance with California employment laws. An employee, or in some cases, a large group of workers, can join together to sue the employer for not providing the required breaks.

For instance, in the case of Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC, the problem was the rounding of time records for meal periods by the company’s electronic ticketing system. In this case, the system rounded time entries to the nearest increment of ten minutes resulting in non-compliant meal periods for non-exempt employees. The plaintiff filed a class action suit alleging denial of meal breaks, improper rounding of time records for meal breaks, and failure to pay the one-hour premium for non-compliant meal breaks.

In its decision, the court re-affirmed its ruling in Brinker Restaurant Corp. Vs. Superior Court that employers should provide employees in the exemption category with a chance to take meal breaks. Still, they are not required to ensure that employees actually take the meal period. 

The court further ruled that rounding of time records is not allowed when it comes to meal breaks, emphasizing that meal periods must be at least 30 minutes in length. Employers should review California meal break law policies and practices to reduce liability risk. 

As every second of break time counts in California, some of the best California Break compliant tools, such as Timeero, allow no time rounding when tracking employee breaks in California. This way, you can rest assured that your employees will get all their breaks and compensation. 

In another case, Ferra v. Loews Hollywood Hotel, LLC, the California Supreme Court significantly increased the liability for California employers who fail to provide workers with proper rest, meals, and recovery breaks. The court ruled that employers should pay premium payments for missed breaks at the employee’s “regular rate of pay.” This rate includes all non-discretionary incentives, such as commissions and bonuses, which may lead to a higher rate than the base hourly pay. 

Wage Claim

If an employer fails to pay the premium, employees can file a lawsuit against the employer or file a wage claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). In such cases, the employees can file a minimum wage claim within three years of the alleged rest period violation. 

Additionally, the employer may not discriminate or retaliate against the employees for enquiring about a missed break time or filing a claim with the Labor Commission. 

Damage to Employer Reputation

California labor law violations can quickly spread through social media or news outlets. The negative reviews can damage the employer’s reputation and decrease customer loyalty, which may affect the company’s brand image.

How Can Employers Comply With California Labor Laws

As we’ve seen above, not complying with California break laws can seriously harm your business. Not tracking employees’ breaks in California can have a similar impact.

The financial effects can be severe, not to mention the lengthy and expensive litigations that can follow. 

To comply with the California meal and rest break law, it helps to know why it exists and how it benefits both employers and employees.

Before we dive into the details of achieving compliance, let’s briefly review: why are breaks important for employees?

  • Improves Health and Overall Productivity. A brief break in the workday can help employees rejuvenate and come back to work energized. Also, taking breaks can help them reduce stress, fostering better employee mental health. These factors contribute to enhanced job satisfaction. 

  • Improve Employee Engagement. Taking breaks nurtures a positive work environment. When employees enjoy breaks together, it will lead to better communication, collaboration, and teamwork, which are essential for your business’s success.

  • Boosts Creativity and Reduces Decision Fatigue. By taking frequent breaks during the workday, your employees can let their minds find the solutions they need more easily. They can also reflect on what has happened during their workday, which can help them gain clarity on work challenges and see the bigger picture.

So, what can you do to ensure these benefits and your business’s compliance with California Labor laws?

1. Understand the Legal Requirements 

Your first step is to understand all the requirements of California break laws and all the other relevant regulations that may apply.

In summary, non-exempt employees in California have the right to take a 30-minute unpaid meal break for every five hours of work, as well as a 10-minute paid rest break for every four hours of work or a major fraction of that.

As per state and federal laws on breaks, these breaks should be uninterrupted, and employers must relieve employees of all duties during these breaks.

However, to cover all the bases, such as collective bargaining agreements or on-duty meals, ensure you consult with employment lawyers and experts in this area.

2. Have an Employee Breaks Policy

The next best practice is creating an employee breaks policy aligned with the relevant legislature. Besides compliance, the policy will promote healthier and more productive workplace habits.

There are a couple of steps to establishing an employee breaks policy.

First, review your employee break legislation and set the length of the breaks accurately. 

Then, consider the employee’s needs, including meal breaks, rest, bathroom, nursing mothers, emergencies, etc.

Finally, set the employees’ break policy guidelines and communicate them clearly to employees. 

All your employees must know which breaks they are entitled to under the California meal and break laws, and feel free to use them.

3. Using a Reliable Time & Break Tracking App For Compliance

But, employees overwhelmed with work may easily forget to take their meals and rest breaks.

That’s why using a time-tracking app like Timeero can help ensure employee takes the breaks they are entitled to. 

Moreover, employees can use the tool to verify their meal and rest breaks, enabling your company to comply with California break laws. 

And if an employee is not compliant, Timeero will immediately alert a manager to act in a timely fashion.

How Can Timeero Help My Business Comply With California Meal and Rest Law?

Timeero is a GPS time, location, and mileage tracking software that can help you streamline your workflow while ensuring compliance with the relevant legislation.

Timeero mobile app
Employees can use TImeero mobile app to clock in and out and track their breaks

Timeero’s California Breaks Tracker lets employers create, monitor, and manage employees’ breaks with a few clicks, giving you more control over the process. 

TImeero employees assignes to California Break Policy
Easily assign employees to California Break Policy

Using Timeero mobile app, employees can record their meal and rest breaks, confirm them on the Daily Sign-off forms, and review and edit their Daily Sign-off to prevent errors.

When you choose the California Break Policy and assign employees, Timeero will prompt them to complete a form before clocking out. 

timeero daily sign off form
Timeero California Breaks Daily Sign-off

Employees completing the form will need to confirm that they’ve successfully taken breaks or state the reasons for non-compliance. If an employee is not compliant, you will receive alerts right away so that you can take the necessary actions.

Using Timeero, you will have accurate details on employees’ start and end of breaks and generate reports for audit and payroll processing. 

Besides tracking breaks, Timeero accurately tracks employees’ hours and any overtime they clocked in. For instance, you can use California Overtime Rule to ensure compliance in California. You can set Timeero to notify you once an employee goes overtime or once the set overtime threshold is attained on the app. 

But tracking employee breaks in California is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the benefits Timeero can bring to your business. Check out our Timeero review to learn more about the software and its other notable features, such as location and mileage tracking, scheduling, PTO tracking, streamlining payroll and mileage reimbursement, etc.

Costs of Not Tracking Employee Breaks in California: Summary

The state of California’s meal and rest requirements can be rather intricate, posing a challenge for most employers to adhere to. 

It’s essential to stay informed about California labor laws to ensure compliance and minimize the risk of legal consequences. 

Additionally, using a time and breaks tracker compliant with California labor laws can provide your employees adhere to what the law requires.

By providing and tracking employee breaks in California, employers can improve employee productivity, reduce stress and burnout, improve business growth, and avoid hefty fines.


Can My Employee Choose to Skip or Waive Their Meal or Rest Break?

Under California break laws, employees can waive their meal breaks (CA Labor Code 512) under strict conditions and with the waiver agreement of both parties. Employees can waive their first meal break if they work a 6-hour shift in a day or less. They can waive their second meal break if they work from 10 to 12 hours and if they have used their first meal break. Employers shouldn’t encourage or pressure employees to waive their meal or rest breaks.

Rest breaks can not be waived.

How Do I Document Rest Breaks in California?

Rest breaks are counted as worked hours. For this reason, California employees do not need to record their rest breaks on their timecards or the company’s timekeeping documents, such as time clocks or timesheets.  

While the law may not require record-keeping of rest breaks, employers could face problems proving that they provided employees with rest breaks. It is essential for employers to be able to confirm that employees took their breaks through the documentation on a time clock, timesheets, and so on. 

Avoid Legal Litigation and Hefty Fines With Timeero’s Califonia Breaks Tracker!

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David Kariuki

David is a content writer passionate about all things SaaS and technology! With over seven years of experience, David knows how to craft content that captivates his readers and effectively communicates their value and offerings. When he is not writing, he is at home reading, out playing soccer, or exploring new places.

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