So, what does it mean to “provide” a meal period? An employer is not required to make sure no work is performed during a meal period, but the employer must go beyond simply making a meal period “available” to its employees. Generally, to ensure that their obligation to provide a meal period is satisfied, an employer has to actually relieve all employees of all duties, relinquish control over the employee’s activities, give employees a sensible opportunity to have a 30-minute break without interruption (during which they may leave and return at will), and be certain not to discourage or hinder employees from taking their meal period.
It is illegal for employers to subvert a formal policy of providing meal periods (i.e., in a handbook) by putting pressure on employees to complete their duties in a way that prevents them from taking meal periods (as through scheduling to make meal periods difficult). As stated by the California Supreme Court, “The wage orders and governing statute do not countenance an employer’s exerting coercion against the taking of, creating incentives to forego, or otherwise encouraging the skipping of legally protected breaks.” In English, this means that an employer cannot coerce an employee to work during a meal period or create incentives for an employee to work through a meal period.