Legally Required to Take a Lunch Break?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on April 16, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you're a non-exempt, hourly employee, you're probably entitled to a lunch break under state law. But there's undoubtedly been a time when you've wanted to work through lunch.

Because this scenario can cause a number of problems for employers who want to comply with lunch break laws and overtime rules, you may have been told "no." But this answer may soon change if you are a California worker. The state's highest court has said that employees can choose whether or not to take a lunch break.

The California Supreme Court has ruled that the state's lunch break laws allow employees to choose to work through lunch. Employers are only obligated to relieve employees of all duties during a 30-minute, uninterrupted period. What an employee chooses to do during that time is generally up to him.

If a California employee chooses not to take a lunch break, he must still be compensated at his normal hourly rate -- but only if the employer knows that he worked during that period. So if you work in California and work through lunch, tell your employer and put it on your timecard.

Also, it's best not to assume that skipping lunch is okay with your boss. There may still be a company policy prohibiting the practice. In restaurants, for example, skipping lunch could leave a 30-minute gap between shifts. If your boss still says "no" to your request, don't work through lunch.

As for everyone who works outside of California, the law on this issue is still unclear. Some state lunch break laws may allow employees to opt out of lunch. Others don't. Regardless, the same advice applies. You should always get preapproval from your boss and put it on your timecard if you don't take a lunch break.

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