Enforcing Meal Periods with Mobile Staff
Digital tracking makes compliance easier
by Anna Savini

There has been a spate of recent lawsuits and litigation regarding employers’ lack of compliance with demanding California labor laws when it comes to home health care employees’ meal periods and rest breaks. This matters even to those not based in California, as non-local companies (except those with corporate headquarters in Arizona or Texas) who have staff working in California must also conform to California Department of Labor regulations, and other states are also increasing regulations in these matters.

It is important to research local and state laws because many areas are moving toward tighter rules and requiring employer compliance. Companies will be held responsible for violations that hurt the bottom line; those who violate these laws risk large sums of money and the larger the company, the larger the financial loss.

Understanding the California Law

Under California’s wage-and-hour law, employers are required to provide all non-exempt employees a 30-minute unpaid meal break per eight-hour shift, and provide a second 30-minute meal break if the employee works more than 10 hours. These meal breaks can be waived if there is a mutual written agreement between the employee and employer. Additionally, if the employee does not work more than six hours, the first 30-minute meal period can be waived; the second meal period can be waived as long as the employee did not waive the first meal period.

A meal break must be at least 30 uninterrupted minutes. An employer cannot require or knowingly permit an employee to work through his or her lunches. The employee must be relieved of all work duties during the meal period and be permitted to leave the premises for the full duration of the meal break.

There are very limited circumstances in which an “on-duty” lunch is permitted, and it requires an essential need on the employer’s part that is directly related to the nature of the work performed. That is, the work is unable to be accommodated in any other way—and the burden is on the employer to prove that such a need exists. In addition, meal periods must be compensated if the employee is required to be on call, even if the employee is relieved of all other actual duties during the meal period.

According to calchamber.com, an employer may not require an employee to work for a period of more than five hours per day without providing him or her with a 30-minute unpaid meal break. If the employee is unable to take one or more meal breaks, they will be owed one hour of pay.

Under California law, nonexempt employees should have an opportunity to take a 10-minute paid rest break for every four hours worked or a major fraction thereof. Employers owe the employee an hour of pay if the employee is unable to take one or more rest breaks. The maximum penalty for missed meal breaks and missed rest breaks is two hours of pay per day, no matter how many meal or rest breaks were missed in the day. The additional pay for missed meal or rest breaks must be included in the employee’s next paycheck.

The Importance of Documentation

Documenting meal breaks in the office is simple, but can your company show that your offsite mobile employees are taking the full 30-minute meal period? If a disgruntled employee filed a wage-and-hour lawsuit, would you be able to defend your organization’s practices with data and documenting history?

The solution may be a workforce management mobile application that offers GPS tracking. Look for an app that collects data on time worked, crew clock-in and clock-out, activities performed, job costing, mobile forms, mileage, expenses, digital signature signoff, GPS location and, most importantly, meal period enforcement.

An app that can send alerts to a mobile employee’s phone or tablet will help manage compliance with changing labor laws. Employers can create automated messages such as, “Take a break now,” or “Please take your meal period.” Email or text notifications are sent to management if an employee has not taken a meal period or rest break within a required timeline determined by the employer. This gives the employer the ability to manage breaks and help prevent the possible need for overtime compensation to an employee. An app with electronic signature capture enables employees to sign off on requirements such as time worked, meal periods and rest breaks. This helps protect the company against any potential litigation from disgruntled employees or class action attorneys. In addition, all your mobile employees’ time and attendance data goes directly from punch to payroll for processing, simplifying the process. That means employees get paid on time and correctly—which makes for happier employees.