Given California’s strict break rules, can employees work through lunch?

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in Compensation and Benefits,Employment Law,Human Resources

Q. We give our employees the opportunity to take up to a one-hour lunch break every day. However, several of our employees have requested to work through their lunch break in order to leave work earlier. Is this legal?

A. Generally, not unless your employees are prevented from being relieved of all work because of necessary job duties. California law requires employers to provide employees who work more than five hours with no less than a 30-minute meal period.

“On-duty” meal periods are permitted only under certain circumstances.

An on-duty meal period is permissible when, based on objective criteria, the nature of the work prevents the employee from being relieved of all duty. In addition, the employer and employee must agree to the on-the-job meal period in writing. Finally, the written agreement must also state that the employee may, in writing, revoke the agreement at any time.

According to the California Department of Industrial Relations, examples of situations in which employees are prevented from being relieved of all duty include sole workers in a coffee kiosk or a convenience store, or security guards stationed alone at a remote site.

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