Meal and Rest Breaks: Your Rights as an Employee


You should be treated with fairness and respect regardless of the kind of job you work in. It is important to mention this because restaurant work tends to be low-paid and the jobs seen as unskilled. In short, restaurant workers are often viewed as low skilled and therefore expendable.

The first part of this formula is not true. Every job has its challenges and difficulties and restaurant work is no different. If you work in an especially popular and busy bistro, you will be constantly on your feet, going from one table to another, smiling and offering pleasantries the entire time while trying to comprehend what each diner wants. Trying to keep everything straight can be exhausting and difficult. However, it can be learned and mastered over time.

You must also resist the perception that you are expendable—that you can be used and abused at the whim of restaurant managers and owners. As a restaurant worker, you have the same rights and protections under law as any other type of worker. In this respect, you are no different than someone who works in a factory or does customer service in a bank. You should not allow yourself to be abused and mistreated. If your rights are persistently and consistently violated, then you should contact an employment attorney in Los Angeles.

Meal and Rest Breaks in California

Working in a restaurant keeps you on your feet all day. You must have rest and meal breaks every so often to eat and recover. Your employer should allow you a combination of paid and unpaid rest and meal breaks. This is not required by federal law. The Federal Labor Standards Act does not require employers to give meals or rest breaks. The state of California does have this mandate. Here is how it works:

  1. Rest breaks
  • All rest breaks must be paid
  • You must receive a 10-minute uninterrupted rest break if you work 3.5 hours in a day
  • You are entitled to a second rest break if you work over 6 hours and a third if you work over 10 hours
  • Your breaks should be in the middle of each work period, so that if you work 8 hours your rest breaks should fall before and after your meal break
  • You cannot be forced to work during your rest breaks
  • You are free to skip your rest breaks, but you cannot be encouraged or coerced into doing so
  1. Meal breaks
  • You must receive a 30-minute meal break if you work over 5 hours in a day, and the meal must start before the end of the fifth hour of your shift
  • If the restaurant is especially busy, you can agree to an on-duty meal break, which will count as time worked
  • If you work more than 10 hours in a day, you must receive a second 30-minute meal break; however, you can agree to waive
  • your second meal break if you do not work more than 12 hours and you do not waive your first meal break
  • You must be allowed to spend your meal break how you want to, which includes leaving the premises
  • You cannot be forced to work during your meal break
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There are a few other points you should be aware of. Although your boss must ensure that you have rest and meal breaks during your shift, it is up to you to take them. In other words, if the restaurant is busy and your manager has lost track of who has gone on break and who has not, it is your responsibility to remind them.

You should also know that rest and meal breaks are separate. Under no circumstances can your boss combine them for the sake of their convenience.

Standing Up for Your Rights

You should not allow your employer to abuse and mistreat you. The fear of being fired and having their hours reduced keeps many restaurant workers from reporting the illegal behavior of managers and owners. If a shift manager occasionally fails to allow for your rest and meal breaks, it could be an honest mistake. You can clear up such errors during the shift by breaking yourself, and the person in authority should have no problem with this if they honestly forgot about you.

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However, if you are forbidden from taking rest and meal breaks as a matter of restaurant policy, then you have an entirely different kind of problem on your hands. Before you get into the matter legally, you should request clarification of your employer’s position. If they say anything that suggests their unwillingness to comply with the law, then you can take legal action.

Do not worry about getting fired. It is also against the law for an employer to terminate or retaliate against an employee for raising a genuine concern about their workplace rights. If the restaurant fires you, then you can sue them for not giving you rest and meal breaks and for wrongful termination.

A Los Angeles attorney for restaurant workers can help you through the process and help you get justice. In most instances, a restaurant will not single out one employee for mistreatment. If you are not receiving your rest and meal breaks, then it is likely your colleagues are not either. A well-versed attorney will have handled many cases like this. What starts out as a case filed on behalf of one person turns into a case filed on behalf of a multitude of plaintiffs. The important thing is that the persons who are breaking the law be held accountable, and an employee rights attorney for restaurant workers can make that happen.

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You work hard. You don’t ask for special treatment; only fair wages, fair treatment, and the recognition of what you are entitled to under the law. If you are not getting your rest and meal breaks, then you should pursue legal representation. At Mann & Elias, we will help you understand your legal options.

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