I work at a café in California. I usually work an eight-hour shift, and I get a half-hour off to each lunch in the middle of the day. But, other than that, I only get a few minutes here and there to use the bathroom during my shift. Is this legal?
No, this is not legal. In California, employers must follow certain guidelines for meal periods and rest breaks. If you work more than five hours in a shift, your employer must give you at least 30 minutes of time off for a meal period. It sounds like your employer is complying with this rule.
But, your employer must also give you at least one ten-minute rest break for every four hours that you work (or major fraction of four hours that you work). Because you work an eight-hour shift, you are entitled to two ten-minute rest breaks each day. Unlike meal periods, rest breaks must be paid by your employer.
California courts have specifically held that allowing employees to use the restroom does not count as providing the required rest breaks. Employers must relieve employees of all work duties for a full ten-minute period and cannot require employees to use the restroom in that time. And, there are penalties when an employer fails to provide rest breaks. If your employer fails to give you one or more rest breaks, you are entitled to an additional hour’s worth of wages for that day. For more information, see our article on California meal periods and rest breaks.