The California Supreme Court is asking workplaces to uphold stronger meal-time policies that protect employees and encourage them to take breaks on time.

This ruling is a great reminder to dental practices to watch out for any noncompliant meal break practices and to check that employees never feel pressured to work through breaks.

In a recent lawsuit, an employee filed suit over her employer’s noncompliance with the state’s requirement that employees must receive a 30-minute unpaid meal period within the first five hours of work.

Because the employer’s policy rounded time to the nearest 10-minute interval, employees did not always enjoy their full, legally protected meal break. The court decided that employees are entitled to the full 30 minutes and should be paid for their break when cut short.

The court’s ruling provides clear boundaries to employers on how to provide meal breaks to staff. Small businesses and dental practices are advised to notify employees of when they can take uninterrupted breaks on time.

Furthermore, it’s important for employers to track that their employees are enjoying their breaks for the entire meal period and that it starts and ends before the fifth and tenth hour, when a second break is required. A meal premium equal to an hour of pay should be offered to employees when appropriate.

Employers will not be held to account for violations if they demonstrate that a meal premium or option for a compliant meal break was provided to the employee. The employee may choose to work, skip or delay the break — but dental practice owners must offer the option to remain in compliance. As a best practice, however, dental practices should not encourage staff to skip their breaks in any way.

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