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Can my employee skip his meal break and eat at his desk if it gets too busy?

For non-exempt employees, on-duty meal periods are allowed only in certain circumstances as outlined in the California Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) orders. Generally, you must provide a meal break of at least one half-hour for every work period of more than five hours. However, if six hours of work will complete the day's work, the employee may voluntarily choose not to take the meal break. Meal breaks may be unpaid only if:
  • They are at least 30 minutes long;
  • The employee is relieved of all duty; and
  • The employee is free to leave the premises.
For each workday you fail to provide a non-exempt employee a meal break as required, you owe the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee's regular rate. Unless other factors are present, simply the fact that it gets too busy or employees want to work through a meal period does not meet the criteria. Bottom line: employers must take all reasonable measures to ensure non-exempt employees are actually taking meal breaks. Exempt employees are however exempt from any meal break requirements.

Quick: What’s the difference between an exempt and nonexempt employee?

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