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Premium Pay Penalty Due When Employee Given Late Meal Break

Yesterday our store was very busy, so I could not let my employee leave for a meal break until very late in the day. Do I owe the employee a one-hour meal period penalty because their lunch break was late, or is it owed only if they didn’t get a meal break at all?

California’s meal period penalty is owed both when an employer fails to provide an employee with a meal break at all, as well as when the meal break is provided later than is legally required. The penalty is known as premium pay.

Meal Break Mandate

California law mandates that meal breaks must be provided on shifts over a certain length, and also sets a time by which meal breaks must be taken. Employees who work more than five hours must be provided with a meal break of at least 30 minutes, and that meal break must begin no later than the end of the employee’s fifth hour of work.

This means the employee must clock out for a meal break no later than 4 hours and 59 minutes after starting work. Note that there is an exception allowing an employee who works no more than six hours to waive their meal period with consent of the employer.

These rules regarding meal period requirements are contained in Labor Code Sections 226.7 and 512, as well as Section 11 of each of California’s Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) Wage Orders.  Read More

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