California is notorious for having strict labor laws that protect workers’ rights while causing a headache or two for employers. Earlier this year, California’s updated Meal and Rest Break Law took effect leading to legal challenges for employees and employers to contend with. As with any significant worker law, there are growing pains for businesses and employees as they try to adapt. This is perhaps even more true for workers in the security industry, where scheduled breaks are more vulnerable to interruption. 

What is the Meal and Rest Break Law?

The law entails that every employer must provide a 30-minute unpaid meal break for every five hours of consecutive work and a paid 10-minute rest break for every four hours. For the meal break, the employee must be allowed to leave the premises and do as they wish. This break can be waived if there is a mutual agreement between the employee and employer. However, the employer is not allowed to coerce the employee into skipping their break and if their shift is longer than six hours, it is considered non-compliant to waive the break.

In the updated law, meal breaks cannot be interrupted and in the event an interruption occurs, it is presumed to be involuntary on the part of the employee. Employers are then required to compensate the employee with an hour of regular pay, also referred to as “premium pay”. 

Additionally, employers are not allowed to round off break times. The employee must take the full 30 minutes, up to the last second, or the break does not comply with the law and the employee must either confirm the interruption in the break was voluntary or be compensated with premium pay. Even if the break was clocked in at 29.59 seconds, the break cannot be rounded up and would be considered non-compliant.

A Meal and Rest Break Law hours chart

Hours Worked Rest Breaks Meal Breaks
0-3.5 hours 0 0
3.5-5 hours 1 0
5.1-8 hours 1 1
8.1-10 hours 2 1
10.1-12 hours 2 2
12.1-15 3 2

How has the security industry been affected by the Meal and Rest Break Law?

For both security officers and office staff, the new law has come with some extra labor and stress for their day-to-day routines. 

Security Business Owners
In the security industry, margins can be tight. For many security businesses, the threat of a lawsuit is existential with the possibility of ending their operations altogether. So far, numerous security businesses have already been hit with lawsuits in relation to the new Meal and Rest Break Law. 

Similarly, the requirement to give security officers premium pay for every interrupted break can also be a challenging financial burden for these businesses to overcome. 

Scheduling Managers and HR
As a direct consequence of the new law, Scheduling managers have to manually comb through each shift log to make sure that employees took their full allotted meal and rest breaks. For shifts where security officers took less than the required break times, HR has to print out waivers and get the officers occupying those shifts to sign them. For every involuntary interruption, the employee has to be compensated with premium pay to abide by the law and avoid lawsuits or penalties. As previously mentioned, many employers are not able to withstand a lawsuit and so there’s a lot of pressure on scheduling managers and HR to get shift audits right. 

Security Officers
Given the nature of security work, officers on break are prone to interruptions by incidents in the field or by colleagues needing a helping hand. And some officers are possibly ending their breaks early intentionally with an awareness that a perceived violation of the Meal and Break Law can lead to a lucrative lawsuit or premium pay. Other security officers are simply clocking out of their break a few seconds early by mistake. In each case, the officer is required to travel to the office to fill out paperwork, costing them time off duty.

What you can do to minimize the negative impacts of the law

There currently aren’t any manual ways to avoid legal risk or more paperwork for security companies and employees. TrackTik, a physical security workforce management company, is currently working on ways to automate this waiver process that allows employees to be compensated fairly without having to go to the office and for managers to avoid having to manually comb through shift logs. We will be updating you soon on these improvements to our Break Management software that will make life for California-based security operations simple again. 

About TrackTik
TrackTik was founded in 2013 and quickly established itself as a market leader with the mission to build better software so its clients can run smarter businesses. TrackTik’s cloud-based technology enables security organizations to connect frontline staff, back office management, and their clients to drive improved operational efficiency and data insights. TrackTik helps security professionals make automated, data-driven decisions with its seamless approach to system connectivity. Headquartered in Montreal, Canada, with offices in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, TrackTik offers four integrated suites of tools – Security Operations for Guarding, Back Office Management, Mobile Patrol and Dispatch, and Business Intelligence & Reporting Analytics, to help security service companies follow the progression of guards, reduce manual tasks, lower costs, and demonstrate value.