California meal break state laws can be very challenging for employers to comprehend, but employees know these laws and their rights and systems must be established to ensure companies are meeting their legal obligations. If not, the company will be subject to costly consequences. Recent court decisions have increased the potential for large financial fines. 

Of course, Kronos can help you ensure all state rules are being followed and maintain documentation of each break in case a dispute should arise—not to mention saving you significant admin costs.

Related: 3 Kronos Mistakes that Could Cost You $4,554 per Employee

Are You Compliant with California Meal Break Legislation?

Let’s start with the Off Duty Meal rules.

If an employee in California works more than 5 hours, then the first meal break must be provided before the end of the 5th hour. A meal break can be unpaid only if ALL of the conditions below are met by the employer:

  • Relieves its employees of all duties.
  • Relinquishes control over the employee’s activities.
  • Permits the employee a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted, 30-minute break.
  • Does not impede or discourage their employee from doing taking a break.

If the employee is not working more than 6 hours, then the meal break may be waived, so long as both the employee and employer agree to do so.

And if an employee works a longer shift:

If an employee in California works more than 10 hours, the employer must provide a second 30-minute meal break, and the break must take place before the end of the 10th hour. This second break can be waived only if ALL of the following conditions are met:

  • Employee is not working more than 12 hours that day.
  • Both employer and employee agree to waive the break.
  • The first meal break of the workday was not waived.

If an employee works more than 15 hours:

If an employee in California works more than 15 hours, the employer must provide a third 30-minute meal break, and the break must take place before the end of the 15th hour.

Just as with the first two rules, this third meal break can be waived only certain conditions are met. ALL of the following conditions must be true to waive this third break:

  • Employee will not work more than 15 hours that day.
  • The employer and the employee both agree to waive the break.
  • The first meal break of the workday was not waived.

If you can’t relieve the employee to take the meal break:

Employees can take on-duty meal periods only in certain (limited) circumstances. For an on-duty meal break to be considered legally compliant, it must meet all of the following conditions:

  • The nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty.
  • Must be agreed to in writing by both the employer and the employee.
  • Must be paid.
  • Can be revoked at any time in writing by the employee, except under Wage Order 14 (Agricultural Occupations).

If you’re considering authorizing on-duty meal breaks, it’s a good idea to check with legal counsel first, as on-duty meal periods have been upheld in court only in very limited circumstances.

How to Configure California Meal Break Rules in Kronos Workforce Central

In each of these cases, if an employee does not take their break, the employer is accountable for paying out a bonus in order to be legally compliant. Should a dispute arise, the burden of proof is on the employer. That’s where Kronos comes in.

Your Kronos system can do the heavy lifting for you, ensuring legal compliance and maintaining the records you’ll need should you ever go to court. You’ll use the pay code feature, break rules, and bonus rules to set up Kronos Workforce Central to reflect the California meal break rule requirements. Should you choose, Kronos Genies can also be set up to ensure you’re always notified of potential issues.

1. Create Pay Code

First, you’ll need to create a pay code to be used for the meal bonus. Be sure to choose an appropriate name, such as “CA Meal Premium.

2. Create Break Rules

Next, you’ll need to create 3 break rules. Break rules define how the system totals and pays a punched-out interval within an employee’s shift. A break can also be defined as an automatic deduction, or as part of a deduct rule. The deduction is based on the number of hours worked. In this case, these will be the rules that tell Kronos how to handle a break within a 5+ hour shift, a 10+ hour shift, and a 15+ hour shift.

As a reminder, you’ll want to choose appropriate names, all within a set naming convention. For example, you might choose to name them, “CA 30 Min Meal 1,” “CA 30 Min Meal 2,” and “CA 30 Min Meal 3.”

For each Break Rule, you’ll need to be prepared to set up the following fields:

  • Break Lengths – Normal, Medium, and Max Lengths
  • Break Settings – At or After, Before and is relevancy to Midnight, Scheduled start or actual start.
  • Round and Grace – These should match your current rounding rules
  • Paid Amount
  • Short Exception Limit
  • Long Exception Limit

3. Set Up Bonus Rules

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to set up the Bonus Rules. Bonuses award hours or money to employees who satisfy conditions that you specify for selected days. In the case of the California rules, these will ensure you maintain compliance should an employee miss a meal break or take their break after the law says they should have—for example, if they clock out for their break during their sixth hour instead of before beginning their fifth, as the law requires.

Again, you’ll need to set up 3 rules. The naming convention for these may be something like, “CA Meal Bonus 5hrs,” “CA Meal Bonus 10hrs,” and “CA Bonus Meal 15hrs.” For these Bonus Rules, you’ll need to be prepared to fill in each of the following fields:

  • Amount
  • Applies On
  • Is Exceptions
  • Pay Code
  • Cancel if break taken
  • Allow Cancellation in timecard
  • Shift Restriction
  • Trigger
  • Use Round Shift boundary times
  • Short Break exceptions disqualifies break
  • Minimum qualifying interval
  • Minimum shift length to trigger
  • Maximum shift length to trigger
  • Locator
  • Trigger if locator is at or after
  • Trigger if locator is before

4. Add to Work Rules

Finally, you’ll need to add the 3 break rules and the 3 bonus rules to the Work rule that you have assigned to the Pay rule for your California employees. (Read more about Kronos Work Rules and Pay Rules.)

Note: If you have previous break rules attached to the work rule, you should remove them from the rule.

Creating these bonuses and break rules can ensure that your company stays compliant with the California break laws without you having to worry about ensuring your managers track and report all breaks correctly. It takes the guesswork out of your hands, letting Kronos work for you.