Hourly healthcare employees have rights when it comes to taking meal and rest breaks in California

Hourly healthcare employees have rights when it comes to taking meal and rest breaks in California

Healthcare workers are the backbone of medical system. Throughout the pandemic, these individuals have witnessed stressors in the workplace that most of us cannot imagine.  They have been present to comfort the sick and dying when family members could not, due to quarantine restrictions.  Under normal circumstances, all workers need an opportunity to take their meal and rest breaks to have time on a human level to decompress, eat some food and regroup.  Unfortunately, this does not always happen in a hospital setting, due poor management decisions regarding patient to staffing ratios, employees being overworked and a lack of relief.  

Healthcare workers have rights just like other hourly employees.  Their work is mentally challenging and difficult and they should be afforded the same basic rights in the workplace.  For example, employees must be provided a 30-minute meal period when they work more than five hours in a day.  Employees must be provided a second 30-minute meal period when they work more than ten hours in a day.

Health care employees who work shifts in excess of eight total hours per day may voluntarily waive the right to take one of their two daily meal periods.  In order to be valid, any such waiver must be documented in a written agreement that is voluntarily signed by both the employee and the employer.  

An employer “provides” meal periods if it relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities, permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute meal period, and does not impede or discourage employees from doing so.  What this means is that a healthcare worker must be provided with the necessary relief to take a meal period.  If taking a break will have the effect of going out of ratio with patients to staff, with no qualified relief available to step in, then there is no “reasonable opportunity” to take the meal period.  

Employers are not obligated to ensure that an employee does not perform any work during a meal break.

A missed meal break does not constitute a violation if the employee waived the meal break, or otherwise voluntarily shortened or postponed it.  Shortening or postponing a break if not “voluntary” when the employee does not have any relief available.  The healthcare staffing world is different from other types of jobs because you cannot simply abandon or walk away from your patients to take a break.  Not only could a healthcare worker lose their license and livelihood for doing this, it could also impact patient and coworker safety.

Similarly, an employer is supposed to authorize and permit its employees to take rest breaks, which insofar as practicable must be in the middle of each work period.  The authorized rest break time shall be based on the total hours worked daily at the rate of 10 minutes net rest time per four hours.  

Employees must be authorized and permitted to take:

  • 10 minutes of rest time for shifts of three and one-half hours to six hours in length;
  • 20 minutes of rest time for shifts of more than six hours up to 10 hours in length;
  • 30 minutes of rest time for shifts of more than 10 hours up to 14 hours in length, and so on.

An employer is required to make uninterrupted rest breaks available but is not obligated to ensure that they are taken.  Since most employers do not require employees to clock in and out for rest periods, it becomes more challenging to document when rest periods are being missed due to a lack of staffing and lack of relief.  

If an employer fails to provide an employee a meal period or fails to authorize and permit a rest break in accordance with the law, the employer is supposed to pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation for each workday that the meal period or rest break is not provided.  

These payments are known as meal period and rest break premiums.  An employee may receive no more than one meal period premium per day and no more than one rest break premium per day regardless of how many meal or rest periods are not provided.  Many employers have a written policy on how to claim meal and rest break premiums.  In many instances, these premiums are not paid.

Are You Experiencing Issues With Your Employer? Contact Salusky Law Today.

If you are experiencing challenges in the workplace regarding having a reasonable opportunity to take your meal and rest breaks and you are not being paid the premiums, please schedule a free consultation with Salusky Law Group to discuss your available remedies.