Bar Management & Staffing

California Break and Meal Period Rules

August 7, 2013

I have a small neighborhood bar in Northern California. We generally have just one bartender on duty at any given time. The bartenders know their job and work independently, without on-site supervision. I am having trouble figuring out how to comply with current California labor laws concerning breaks and meal periods.

California's current labor orders require that employees working more than 5 hours in their shift be given at least 30 minutes for a meal period. To qualify as a meal period the employee must be relieved of all work responsibilities and allowed to go off site.

Recent court rulings have brought on loads of unpaid wage claims and class action lawsuits and in most cases the employer is having to pay back wages and penalties, often back several years.

My bartenders do not want this unpaid meal period. They would rather work then walk away from tips they could be receiving during the meal period. They have always had an "on duty" meal period, taking time to eat and relax during a period when business is slower. My legal consultant says that employees cannot waive the meal period, although I cannot force them to take it. Counsel advises that I am leaving myself exposed for claims and litigation. What a ridiculous mess!

I want to be sure our policies and procedures protect my business as much as possible. I have already had instances where I have had to pay disgruntled former employees for nuisance labor claims. I don't want to go through that again.

How have others dealt with this issue??

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