Employee Rights Attorney

Mission Viejo, California

Q: I read that employees are supposed to get two breaks daily, by law. Are security officers exempt from that law? I work as a gate security officer in a gated community. The guards are not allowed to take a break of any kind. We eat and use the toilet (in the gate house) when we can. We work a minimum eight-hour shift, and at times we work 12 or 16 hours. This seems to be generally true in any security position.

A: Under California law, an unpaid meal time of 30 minutes or more shall be provided within five hours of starting work, if the workday is six hours or more. Required rest periods are 10 minutes per four-hour period worked, and they are paid breaks. Overtime compensation is owed when you work more than eight hours in a day.

The employee must be completely relieved from work during the break. If the employer requires a worker to remain at a desk during the meal period to answer calls, for example, that meal time must be compensated.

Exemptions apply in the motion picture industry, and in agricultural and household occupations.

Employment law attorney Don Sessions adds this: “From a practical standpoint, it could be a real burden for the security company to send someone over to spell the guard for 10 minutes or so. But if the person is allowed to go on break, and there is no replacement, that breaks the contract to provide constant security.

“You have the legal right to take the breaks, and you could file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner. You could get the company cited, but you won’t win any favors with the employer. You should consider how this might affect your employment.”