California law states that employers must provide at least a thirty-minute meal period to their employees when their work period is greater than five hours, or greater than six hours for those in the motion picture industry. If during this 30-minute meal period the employee is expected to perform any duties or is not allowed to leave the employer’s premises, the meal period is to be considered “on duty” and must be paid for at the employee’s regular rate.
If you cannot leave your work premises for your meal period, it is not a meal period and you likely must be paid meal period premium pay of one hour for each time you could not leave your work premises for a meal period.
So-called “on duty” meal periods are only allowed if the nature of the work keeps the employee from being removed of all duties and when the employer and employee have a written agreement regarding an on-the-job-meal.
The test to determine whether or not the nature of work keeps an employee from being relieved of their duties is objective. Employers and employees may not agree to an on-the-job meal plan if, based on objective testing, the standard that any employee would have not been able to have been relieved from duty is not met.
Some jobs that fit in the category of impermissible “on duty” meals include a singular worker at a kiosk, the only worker in an all night convenience store, or a security guard at a remote station by himself.
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