Labor & Employment FAQs: Time-Tracking Your Employees in California

California has a plethora of time-tracking rules for hourly employees that can be a tad tricky. If you have hourly, non-exempt employees, then you’re in the right place! We’re here to help you plow through the legal weeds.

Q: When does an employee need a meal break?

A: Meal breaks are required for any shift that extends longer than 5 consecutive hours, even by 1 minute. Meals breaks must be at least 30 minutes long and must be taken within the first 5 hours of work. For example, if an employee (let’s call her Janet) has a 6-hour shift, she would need to take a 30-minute meal break within the first 5 hours of that 6-hour shift. Otherwise, you, as Janet’s employer, can be fined by the state for a wage & hour violation. That’s no bueno!

Q: I’ve heard about a meal break waiver; what’s that?

A: Basically, a meal break waiver allows for an extension of the 5-hour rule above. It does not, however, mean that the employee doesn’t get a meal break for shifts longer than 6 hours. If the employee signs a meal waiver form (usually at the start of employment), then they can go as long as 6 hours before needing a 30-minute meal break. Waiver forms are typically very simple and straightforward, but it is still a good idea to consult your lawyer if you want to go this route with your employee(s).

Q: Does an employee working overtime need more than one meal break?

A: Yes, but only if the employee’s shift extends longer than 10 consecutive hours. So, for an employee working an 11-hour shift, they would be required to have two separate 30-minute meal breaks.

Q: Are meals paid?

A: Quick answer: nope! You can choose to pay employees for meal breaks, and you can even grant meal breaks longer than 30 minutes. However, you do not have to pay employees for their chow down time.

Q: When does overtime pay kick in?

A: Overtime in California is calculated in two ways: by the workday and by the workweek. For the workday, any shift that extends longer than 8 hours triggers overtime pay of 1.5x the employee’s normal hourly rate of pay for any time extending past that 8-hour mark. Remember: the required 30-minute meal break is excluded from this calculation. For the workweek, any time worked in excess of 40 hours per week also triggers overtime pay (using the same calculation of overtime rate above).  

Q: When does an employee need a “rest break”?

A: Any employee working more than a 3.5-hour shift (so, basically, everyone!) needs an uninterrupted, paid rest break of ten minutes. So, the general rule is that for every 4 hours worked, an employee should get 1 of these rest breaks.

Q: Does an employee need to be paid for being “on call”?

A: The answer to this question depends on where the employee is being “on call”. If the employee is waiting on your premises, then they must be paid for their time “on call”. On the other hand, if the employee is “on call” at home, then you most often will not have to pay them. There are some enigmatic rules around this, so if you have any doubt, reach out to your law person.

Q: How does travel time work?

A: Travel time can be a confusing area, but the basics are that time spent traveling from the employee’s home to work does not need to be counted towards hours worked (a.k.a. paid). However, time spent traveling from job site to job site within the workday does need to be counted towards hours worked (a.k.a. paid). It’s a fine distinction, but it makes sense.


By: Zachary Avina – 02/23/18

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