Every day, your employer asks you to work through your lunch break. Some of the time, it is very obvious: Your boss tells you there is too much to do and you need to eat at your desk. On other days, he or she implies it, perhaps by saying that dedicated employees will find ways to get more done throughout the day.
Either way, you cannot remember the last time you actually took time off for lunch. You know the rest of the workers in your office feel the same way. People complain about it, but it is just part of the company culture. This is a highly competitive field. People make sacrifices.
But is this the way it has to be? Is this the way it should be?
What you actually deserve
It's not. In reality, you deserve a lunch break at work. Your employer cannot violate that right. This isn't a choice or an option. It is something granted by law.
Under California law, if you work for at least five hours during the day, you need to get a break for a meal period. This has to last at least 30 minutes.
If you work for over 10 hours during a single day, you then have a right to a second meal period. This also has to last for 30 minutes. Again, it is required. Your boss cannot tell you to tough it out or work through it. You deserve that rest break while you eat.
Waiving your rights
You can waive your right to a meal period in certain situations. For example, if you are working for under six hours during the day, you can agree to give up the meal period you deserve for working over five hours. You do not have to take 30 minutes off, hop back on the clock for a half hour or less, and then go home. You can work the full six hours without a break.
The same is true if you are working under 12 hours. You can take your first break and then waive your right to the second break for hitting the 10-hour mark. You can only do this if you did take that first meal break. So, you must have one, but you do not need to have two breaks if you want to give one up.
Of course, the key here is mutual consent. Your employer cannot take the break away. Only you can give it up.
If your employer forces you to skip breaks, it is a serious violation of California law. The same is true if you get fired after standing up for your rights. Make sure you know what legal steps you can take.