Some California workers may be entitled to a paid lunch break based on how courts interpret Department of Labor regulations. According to the DOL, workers should be entirely free from any work duties if their break is unpaid.
More specifically, several factors are examined. These are whether the employee can leave the work site or must remain nearby, sometimes in uniform; whether the person can smoke, sleep or run errands; and whether the person is on call and must be prepared to return to work.
Courts in many states have not looked at these regulations literally when determining whether an employee should be paid for a break. Instead, they have examined other factors including how often the employee is interrupted during the break and if the employee's actions on the premises are restricted. They also look at whether the issue is covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Ultimately, the court is trying to determine whether the employee is able to pass the lunch break in relative peace while doing what they would like versus continuing their work duties.
A person who feels that they have not been paid what they should be for hours they have worked might want to speak to an attorney to find out what their rights may be. As this explanation demonstrates, in some cases, the situation may be up for interpretation by a court. Other situations might be a more blatant violation of employee rights. Workers may also want to consult an attorney if they have worked unpaid overtime. While approaching their employer to try to resolve the issue might be the first step, this may be unsuccessful. The worker might even face retaliation after raising the issue. In any of these cases, the next option may be filing a lawsuit.