Meals and Rest Breaks 2018-01-12T06:14:59+00:00


Under California law you’re entitled to meal & rest breaks if you work as a non-exempt employee.  If you’re working more than 5 hours in a workday a 30-minute meal break is required, and for each 4 hours worked a 10 minute break is required.

Meal and rest breaks cause employers a lot of confusion. Partly because federal and California meal break laws require employers to meet different requirements. For example, meal and rest breaks are not required under federal law, however, California employment law requires that both meal and rest breaks be provided.

Furthermore, the laws themselves can be somewhat tricky. For instance, federal law does not regard meal breaks as work time, therefore an employer is not required to compensate you for time you spend on these breaks. Meanwhile, short breaks of 5 to 20 minutes are regarded as compensable work time and as such should be included in the sum of all hours worked for that week.

Here is how California provides for meal and rest breaks under California Employment Law:

Meal Breaks Under California Employment Law

If you work more than 5 hours you are entitled to an 30 minute unpaid meal break.

However, if your work period is no more than 6 hours, you and your employer can agree to waive your meal break. This will sometimes happen if you are the only employee, such as when you are working in a kiosk, and there is no one there to cover for you.

If you work more than 10 hours you are entitled to a second meal break.

However, if your work period is no more than 12 hours, you and your employer can agree to waive it, but only if you didn’t waive your first meal break. In other words, you cannot waive both meal breaks in a single day.

To qualify as a legal meal break, your break must meet the following criteria:

  • It must be at least 30 minutes long
  • You must be free to leave the premises
  • You must be relieved of all work duties

This means that if you are required to answer phones or perform other work duties while eating lunch, you did not receive a legal meal break.

If you don’t receive a legal meal break, your employer will owe you an additional hour of pay at your regular rate of pay. In addition, you may be entitled to civil penalties if your employer frequently fails to provide meal breaks to multiple employees.

Rest Breaks Under California Employment Law

For every 4 hours of work, you are entitled to a 10-minute rest break. But unlike meal breaks, you can be required to remain at work during your rest break.

On the other hand, as it is with California meal break laws, if your employer doesn’t give you a required rest break, you will be entitled to an extra hour of pay and may also be entitled to civil penalties.

If your employer fails to give you a rest and a meal break on the same day, it owes you two hours of additional pay. However, you can’t collect for more than one missed rest break and one missed meal break on the same day.

Consult With an Experienced California Employment Lawyer

In these tough times, you need to collect every dollar you’ve earned from your employer. To learn more about your rights as an employee in California, contact a knowledgeable and experienced attorney.

Not given breaks? Contact us today for a free case evaluation.