Even if a workplace is on a fast-paced schedule, California law makes it clear that after five hours a worker must be provided thirty minutes of consecutive time to eat a meal. But even if a meal time is made available, an employer may attempt to squeeze some additional labor out of a worker even during meal time. This kind of coercion is forbidden by law and could entitle a worker to compensation.
Even though an employer may formally announce a general meal period, there are instances where a worker’s labor schedule makes it inconvenient to stop and take a break. A schedule may require that an employee complete a certain task before stopping for a break. However, there is no formally scheduled time for the work to end, only a requirement that it must be finished. The employee may feel intimidated and refuse to stop until the work is done, which could last past the scheduled meal time.
Sometimes an employer may try to get a worker to voluntarily waive a meal period. They may coerce their employees to skip a meal to finish an important task, or they may offer incentives for a worker to press on with their assigned labor past mealtime. But even if the employer seemingly makes it rewarding to put aside a meal, the law still forbids a workplace from doing this. If an employee foregoes a meal break, he or she is to be paid an hour’s wages and perhaps overtime if warranted.
Meal breaks are important for sustaining your best workplace performance. An article on Fastcompany.com points out that meal time provides your brain a break from its cognitive activity. Without a proper break, your brain will become less creative and your ability to concentrate will diminish. Also, a lack of a meal time deprives your body of needed nutrition. Meal breaks also give you an opportunity to leave your workspace. Exposing yourself to a different environment, if even briefly, can be refreshing.
The importance of rest and nutrition is why California law does not permit employers to deprive employees of meal breaks. Even subtle efforts to dissuade workers to voluntarily give up meal time is not allowed.