In California, employers generally must provide a thirty (30) minute off duty meal period (typically a lunch break) to nonexempt employees who work a period of more than five (5) hours. The meal period must begin before the employee exceeds working five (5) hours.
For the meal period to meet the legal requirements, the thirty (30) minute break must be uninterrupted and off duty. This means that for example, a nonexempt employee should have the ability to go to a McDonald’s, any other restaurant, or home for lunch with his or her cell phone off and come back thirty (30) minutes later. If an employer requires the employee to stay on the work premises, work partially or fully through lunch, or even answer cell phone calls while on a meal period, then it is likely that the legal requirements are not met and a missed meal period violation occurred.
Please note that if a nonexempt employee works for a work period of more than ten (10) hours in a workday, then the employer must provide an employee a second thirty (30) minute off duty meal period before the employee exceeds ten (10) hours of work.