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Overworked? Know your rights for stepping away from the job

While the day-to-day experiences of workers in different occupations can look drastically different from one another, one thing remains universal: taking time away from work is necessary for your health.

A study conducted in 2015 linked overworking with a number of health issues, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes. Stress, burnout, and extended periods of strain from sitting are all part of that picture. Regardless of profession, everyone needs access to respite from both the mental and physical elements of a job.

America’s unhealthy relationship with the workplace

Unfortunately, time away from work is harder to come by for some workers. In the US, workplace culture creates enormous pressure for employees to prioritize work over taking time for rest and relaxation. That can mean employees feel pressure to give up breaks or planned paid time off, or even outright asked by an employer to work on days an employee planned to take off. In fact, paid time off isn’t required. However, sick leave is required.

California employment law allows employers to deny vacation days, but they must be able to provide a valid reason. In accordance with the Federal Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), leave cannot be denied if there is a medical concern.

The state also has a required day of rest for every seven days worked, except for people working under 30 hours per week. This amounts to a day per week, roughly.

What about breaks during the workday?

California’s state laws require breaks throughout the day, including at least 10 minutes for every four hours worked. There are also specific requirements for meal breaks based on hours worked, including:

  • A 30-minute unpaid break for 5.5 hours of work
  • Two 30-minute breaks for 10 hours of work

Once certain numbers of hours worked are reached, however, an agreement signed by the employer and the employee can waive the break requirements. It’s important for employees to recognize that this decision must be mutual—an employer cannot revoke your break without your consent or coerce you into signing an agreement to give it up.

Stand up for your right to rest

Some employers attempt to deny their employees breaks or time off, whether by directly threatening punishment or termination, or by creating a culture that looks down upon taking periods of rest.

If you believe your workplace is denying you the time you’re legally entitled to take for breaks or leave of absence, an experienced attorney can help you fight for the relief you deserve. Your health could depend on it.