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Work From Home: Yes, You’re Still Owed Breaks

The pandemic has shown many employers that allowing employees to work from home can be a viable business model. However, some companies that permit remote work want to maintain minute-by-minute control over their workers. These employers may order workers to remain at their desks and active for their entire shift, ignoring California labor laws and break requirements.

If that sounds familiar, your employer may be violating your rights. Here’s what California law says workers are owed, how these laws apply to remote workers, and what you can do if you’re not given the breaks you need.

California Employment Law: What You’re Guaranteed

California has some of the strictest labor laws in the country. The state requires employers to provide non-exempt workers with many benefits to make the workday less taxing. The most important of these are meal and rest breaks to allow workers to eat and relax after a set number of hours

If you work more than five hours in a workday, you’re owed at least one unpaid meal break. This break must be at least 30 minutes long, and you cannot be required to do any work tasks during that time, including responding to emails, answering the phone, or other administrative tasks. You must be given a second 30-minute break if you work more than 10 hours in a day.

Meal breaks are not optional and must be granted before the end of the fifth hour of the workday. For example, as a remote non-exempt worker, you cannot be required to work from 7 am to 1pm without receiving a half-hour meal break. Even if you can eat at your desk, your employer must give you the requisite 30-minute time off. If your employer doesn’t ensure you take your break, you are owed one hour of regular pay for each day you don’t get that time. 

Rest breaks are just as important. Non-exempt workers are owed at least one ten-minute paid rest break if they work for three and a half hours in a workday. Workers are owed one rest period for every four hours (or a substantial fraction of a four-hour period) they work. Meal breaks do not count toward this break period, either. 

This means that someone who works for eight hours in a day is owed two paid 10-minute rest periods as well as a 30-minute meal. If you work 12-hour days, you’re owed three rest breaks and two meals. For every rest period, your employer does not give you, you’re owed one full hour of regular pay. Anything else is a wage and hour violation.

Exceptions to Break and Overtime Regulations in California

Not every employee is eligible for these rest break laws, unfortunately. Employers are only required to provide these breaks under the law to non-exempt workers. In most cases, people who are paid hourly are considered non-exempt. 

There are several reasons why a worker may be exempt. Categories of exempt employees include:

  • Executive and administrative workers: Employees who spend at least half their workday doing intellectual, managerial, or creative work based on their own judgment.
  • Licensed professionals: Employees who receive a specific license from the state to perform their jobs, such as medical workers and teachers.
  • Computer employees: Workers who are highly skilled in and responsible for computer systems analysis, software engineering, or programming. 
  • Outside sales workers: Employees who earn a commission on sales they make and spend at least half their workday outside their employer’s place of business to make sales. 

Executive and administrative employees, salespeople, and licensed professionals must also make a minimum of twice the state minimum wage to qualify as exempt workers. Computer professionals must earn three times the minimum wage.

The only exemption related to remote or work-from-home employees is the outside salesperson rule. If you are not a dedicated salesperson and do not make at least double the minimum wage per year, you are most likely a non-exempt employee. If so, your employer still owes you breaks. 

What to Do If Your Employer Isn’t Providing Breaks for Remote Workers

If you’re a non-exempt worker and your employer doesn’t let you take the required breaks, your rights are being violated. You may have grounds to take legal action and pursue backpay and wages for the rest and meal periods you were not granted. Here’s how to get started:

  • Collect copies of your work schedule and pay stubs. These items will show when you’ve worked and how you’ve been compensated. If your lunch break doesn’t appear on the timesheet or pay stubs, it shows your employer is violating labor laws.
  • Save communications or policies that ban breaks. Paid breaks may not show up on pay stubs or schedules. In that case, you need to document that your employer discouraged or banned rest periods. This can include policies that require you to be on camera or active at your computer straight through your shift or emails from supervisors berating you for resting.
  • Contact an experienced employment law attorney. Always consult with a qualified lawyer if you suspect your rights have been violated. They can help you determine if you have a case and collect the information you need to file a successful claim.

Fight for Your Right to Rest

Hundreds of thousands of workers nationwide fought for your right to rest during the workday. If your employer has violated those rights, you can and should stand up to them. At The Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman, APC, we have decades of experience helping workers like you pursue fair working conditions and compensation for lost breaks. 

We’ll use our knowledge and experience to advocate on your behalf, both at the negotiation table and in court. Schedule your consultation to learn more about how we’ll stand up for your rights to rest at work.