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Meal and Rest Breaks Under California Law

Meal and Rest Breaks Chart
-- Meal Breaks Rest Breaks
How Often Every 5 Hours Every 4 Hours (or major fraction thereof)
How Long 30 Minutes 10 Minutes
Paid or unPaid Unpaid Paid

All non-exempt workers in California are entitled to a 30-minute meal break after five hours of work. Your meal break must be free from all work-related interruptions and obligations such as being on call. You are also entitled to a 10-minute rest break every four hours.

If you miss a meal or rest break, your employer is required to pay you one extra hour of pay for each day that a break is missed. If you miss a meal break and a rest break on the same day, your employer must pay you two extra hours of pay. This extra pay for missed meal and rest breaks is called premium pay.

If you are missing meal and rest breaks at work and not getting premium pay, you can enforce your rights to recover the missed payments. Call Ottinger Employment Lawyers for a free consultation. Click here for information about our Los Angeles office. Click here for information about our San Francisco office.

Meal Break Law Requirements in California

A meal break is an unpaid, uninterrupted period of 30 minutes provided to employees to spend on personal business such as errands, meals, or anything they choose. Employees are not required to eat during this time.

To provide a lawful meal break, an employer must:

  • relieve the employee of all duties;
  • relinquish control of the employee’s activities;
  • permit a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute meal break; and

Employers cannot:

  • discourage or impede employees from taking meals;
  • create incentives to skip meal breaks;
  • create incentives to skip meal breaks;
  • create a culture that encourages skipping breaks.

Employers must provide meal breaks but do not have to ensure employees take those breaks.

Number and Timing of Meal Breaks

A nonexempt employee working more than five hours in one shift is entitled to one meal period lasting at least 30 minutes. The employer must provide the meal break no later than the end of the fifth work hour. An employee working more than ten hours in one shift is entitled to a second 30-minute meal break. The employer must provide a second break no later than the end of the tenth work hour.

Waiving Your Right to a Meal Break

An employee working six hours or less in one shift may waive their right to a meal break. Waivers for meal breaks do not need to be in writing, but both parties must consent to the waiver.

If the employee’s shift is greater than ten hours, but will not exceed 12 hours, they can waive their right to a second meal break as long as they take the first meal break—an employee cannot waive both breaks in one workday.

On-Duty Meal Breaks

Circumstances of some jobs may prevent employees from taking a meal break. For example, a sole employee in an all-night convenience store or a security guard stationed alone at a location cannot leave their job in such a way that would qualify as a “meal break” because they cannot be relieved of their duties as discussed above. In addition, employers can also require that employees remain onsite during their meal breaks. In these cases, an employer may provide an on-duty meal break.

On-duty meal breaks are paid breaks and must be agreed to in writing by the employer and employee. The employee must be able to revoke the agreement at any time. Employees cannot collect premium payments for missed on-duty meal breaks.

Rest Breaks in California What is a “Rest Break”?

California requires employers to provide employees with ten-minute rest breaks for every four hours (or major fraction) worked. Anything over two hours is a “major fraction” of a four-hour period. For example, an employee who works a seven-hour shift is entitled to two 10-minute rest breaks—one break for the first four hours, and a second break for the last three hours. Three hours is a “major fraction” of four hours, meaning more than half of four hours.

Nonexempt employees who work less than three-and-a-half hours are not entitled to rest breaks.

Rest Break Requirements

Rest breaks must be ten consecutive, uninterrupted minutes. During the break, an employee must be relieved of all duties, and the employer must provide “suitable resting facilities” in an area separate from the toilet rooms. Unlike meal breaks, rest breaks are paid breaks.

As to timing, an employee should take a rest period in the middle of the workday “insofar as practicable.”

Employers cannot require employees to remain on-site or on-call during rest breaks.

Hours Worked Number of 10 Minute Rest Breaks
0 to 3:29 hours 0
3:30 to 6 hours 1
6:01 to 10 hours 2
10.01 to 14 hours 3
14:01 – 18 hours 4
Waiving Your Right to a Rest Break

Employees may skip rest breaks. Employers cannot pressure or encourage employees to waive rest breaks.

Penalties for Missed Breaks

While some companies fail to provide meal and rest breaks out of ignorance, for others, it may be a calculated decision to save money. If an employer unlawfully denies a meal or rest break, the employee is entitled to one extra hour of pay at their regular hourly rate for each workday the violation occurs. This additional pay is referred to as “premium pay.”

If an employer fails to pay the premium, an employee may:

  • handle the dispute himself directly with the employer (informally);
  • file a wage claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement; or
  • file a lawsuit against the employer.

An employee has three years from the date of the violation to bring a claim. Employers may not retaliate or discriminate against employees for asking about a missed break, objecting to an illegal practice, or for filing a claim with the Labor Commission.

Each dispute is unique, and not all employers may be willing to handle the dispute informally, so it is best to consult an employment attorney to assess your options.

Can You Sue Your Boss for Meal and Rest Break Violations?

You definitely can sue your employer over this. You can recover one hour of pay for a missed meal break and another hour of pay for a missed rest break for a maximum of two extra hours of pay per day. This can add up over time. You have to bring your case within three years or you can be barred from recovering. If you want to bring a case, call Ottinger Employment Lawyers for a free consultation. Click here for information about our Los Angeles office. Click here for information about our San Francisco office. We handle these cases on a contingency fee basis which means that we don’t get paid until we recover money for you.

Here are a few resources for more information on meal breaks and rest breaks:

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