Legal

Premium Pay For Meal and Rest Breaks: Legal Reasons #30

wf_20111216_news02_111219964Most California employers I run into know about overtime, but many are not aware about Premium Pay or Premium Overtime (to be discussed fully in a another post) for missed meal and rest breaks.

Employees are owed “premium pay” when they miss a meal break and/or a rest break in one day. The law requires employers to pay two hours of premium pay for each day that two separate violations occur.

The additional hour of pay requirement is found in Labor Code section 226.7, which discusses the remedies together, rather than in separate sections. However, the actual language of the statute states that if a meal or rest break is not provided, the employer owes the employee one hour of pay for each work day that the meal or rest break is not provided. The Wage Orders address meal and rest breaks in two different sections.

A review of the legislative history of Labor Code section 226.7 shows that the Legislature intended to match the Wage Order provisions, which clearly provide for two separate remedies — one for a violation of the required meal break and one for a violation of the rest break.1 In United Parcel Service v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, a California Court of Appeal ruled that there are two separate remedies because the premium wage requirement is contained in two separate sections of the Wage Orders.2

Further, the one hour of pay is a wage, not a penalty. Wages are benefits that an employee is entitled to as part of compensation, including money, vacation pay and room and board. Employees who must forego the meal and rest breaks give you free work and lose a benefit to which they are entitled. In other words, the employees lost wages they were owed. The hour of additional pay is not only an incentive for employers to comply with the law but, foremost, a premium wage that compensates employees — not a penalty.3

The distinction between a penalty and a wage is important as there is a three-year statute of limitations for the one additional hour of pay employers must pay employees when a meal or rest break is not provided as opposed to only one year for a penalty.

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