Enforcing Meal Break Rights by Filing a Wage Complaint – California Meal Breaks

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This post will provide an overview regarding enforcing meal break rights by filing a wage complaint. This is the fourth and final post in my “ Understanding California Meal Breaks” series. My previous posts provided a brief summary of the basic requirements in California for meal breaks and some exceptions to the duty to provide a meal break.

Like any other law or right, meal break requirements in California would not carry much weight without a pathway to enforcing those rights. Depending on whether an employee decides to file a wage complaint with a governmental agency (what I will refer to as an “administrative complaint”) or with the superior court, the process and remedies available to employee will vary significantly.

An Administrative Complaint With a California or Federal Governmental Agency may be an Effective way to Recover Damages for Meal Break Violations

In California, employees have the option to file a wage claim with the State Labor Commissioner’s office, the state agency in charge of adjudicating, or deciding, wage claims. Among other things, an employee can seek to recover for an employer’s alleged failure to provide meal breaks and alleged failure to pay one additional hour of pay for noncompliant meal breaks. But keep in mind that the process for filing a claim for a wage claim versus filing other claims, such as claims for retaliation or discrimination, is much different.

Similarly, an employee may file a complaint with the United States Department of Labor (USDOL) to report meal break violations. Whereas the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (or DLSE) is a state governmental agency, the USDOL is a federal agency. As a result, the claims the agencies can investigate and adjudicate and the type of damages the agencies can award vary quite a bit. One important distinction between California law and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is that the FLSA does not require meal period be provided to workers. So, unless an employer expressly provides for a meal break policy, employees may not be able to recover damages for missed meal breaks under FLSA.

For more information about filing a wage claim with the Labor Commissioner, please Click here.

Meal Break Rights, An Employee may File a Civil Action for Meal Period Violations on Behalf of Himself or Herself and all Others “Similarly Situated.”

YASH LAW GROUP assists with both administrative claims, as well as civil lawsuits involving violation of wage and hour rights, like meal breaks. A civil lawsuit in California is initiated by a party (“the plaintiff”) filing a Complaint, which includes the employee’s, or employees’, allegations against the employer. (Additional documents are also required to initiate the case, but usually vary depending on jurisdiction (e.g., the county in California where the case is filed).)

One huge advantage for filing a civil action is the availability of a Class Action. Like its name suggests, a class action involves an employee bringing a case on behalf of not only herself but also other employees who have worked for the same employer as the employee filing the case. Class actions provide a vehicle for hundreds or thousands of employees to band together to seek recovery from an employer at the same time. But there are very strict requirements that must be met before the Court will certify employees as a class. For example, there must be a significant number of employees who have been injured and the claims of the employees must be pretty similar.

The decision of whether to file a case in California Superior Court or to file an administrative complaint involves many complex issues. And there are several advantages and disadvantages an employee must consider before pursuing either pathway.

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