What Does the “End of the Fifth Hour” Really Mean? (Or Why Our Break Calculator Isn’t Wrong)

So when it comes to late lunch violations under California labor law, the general public (and from time to time, even some lawyers) like to argue with us about what the end of the fifth hour really means. Our break calculator has been tested many times and it is 100% correct. Even so, some people continue to insist that our calculator is broken (and maybe we need to get our heads examined too).

In all fairness, the calculation can be very confusing. So let’s try to clear this up once and for all.

First, let’s look at the law. Here’s a direct quote from the California Supreme Court in Donohue v. AMN Servs., LLC (2021) 11 Cal. 5th 58, 61:

“Under California law, employers must generally provide employees with one 30-minute meal period that begins no later than the end of the fifth hour of work and another 30-minute meal period that begins no later than the end of the 10th hour of work. (Lab. Code, § 512, subd. (a); Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) wage order No. 4-2001, § 11(A) (Wage Order No. 4).).”

The question arises, what does “end of the fifth hour of work” really mean?

Let’s look at an example. If a shift starts at 8 am, here’s how the calculation goes.

Start of Shift: 8:00 am (0 minutes into the shift)

End of First Hour: 8:59 am (59 minutes into the shift, i.e., the end of the first hour of work)

End of Second Hour: 9:59 am (1 hour 59 minutes into the shift, i.e., the end of the second hour of work)

End of Third Hour: 10:59 am (2 hours 59 minutes into the shift, i.e., the end of the third hour of work)

End of Fourth Hour: 11:59 am (3 hours 59 minutes into the shift, i.e., the end of the fourth hour of work)

End of Fifth Hour: 12:59 pm (4 hours 59 minutes into the shift, i.e., the end of the fifth hour of work)

Ding! Ding! Ding! 12:59 pm is the “end of the fifth hour of work”. If you punch 8 am into our break calculator on our website, it will say the same exactly the same thing: 12:59 pm.

When given the above example, people will insist that our calculator is wrong and that the end of the fifth hour is 1:59 pm. That is not correct. 1:59 pm would be end of the SIXTH hour of work, 2:00 pm would be start of the SIXTH hour.

To look at it another way: if you punch in at 8 am and punch out at 1:59 pm, how many hours are you owed for? Why, 6 hours of course! That is why 1:59 pm would represent the end of your SIXTH (not FIFTH) hour of work.

If anyone out there has read this and still thinks we’re wrong, let’s talk. We’re always happy to shed more light on this confusing issue.

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