Friday, September 19, 2008

Compensation for Missed Meal and Rest Breaks

Generally, a worker’s right to take meal and rest breaks is protected by federal and state laws. The laws make sure that an employer will provide a worker with proper rest and meal breaks; otherwise, he will be penalized for violating these provisions.

Take the case of Wal-mart as reported in the article ”Meal Breaks and Rest Breaks are Guaranteed by California Law to Employees”, posted on September 12, 2008. In this case, Wal-Mart was ordered by a California judge to pay more than $ 180 million dollars to some of its employees for off-the-clock work and missed rest breaks.

In California, most employees are allowed to take 30-minute meal breaks after a five-hour work shift, which is usually counted as time worked. In addition, an employee may also take a 10-minute rest break for every four hours worked if he works three and a half hours a day. These breaks are mandatory but may be waived in certain situations by special arrangement between an employer and the employee can be waived by the employee -- when the total workday is only 6 hours, and subject to a written agreement where the job does not permit a meal break. (California Code of Regulations, Title 8, section11040.)

In case, an employer fails to provide a worker with proper meal break, he will be compelled by law to pay one hour of the missed break at the regular rate of compensation for each workday the break was missed.

Similar to other civil litigations, a statute of limitation also applies to claims involving wages and meal and rest break violations. The state Supreme Court, in Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc., held that the payments made for violations of meal breaks are considered "wages" and subject to the 3-year statute of limitations for wages. The High Court also specifically held that meal premiums could go back for 3 years.

To make sure your rights are protected against violations of this nature, consulting with a credible employment and labor attorney who is knowledgeable in this area of concern would work to your advantage.