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California Meal and Rest Break Laws

California law requires employers to provide meal breaks and rest breaks to California employees. A meal break and rest breaks are important for workers, as being hungry and tired negatively affects productivity and interactions with coworkers and customers. Meal breaks and rest periods give employees a reasonable opportunity to relax and time to rejuvenate so they can perform their work to their optimal ability.

Violating meal and rest provisions of California meal break law can result in penalties such as fines and, in severe cases, criminal charges f0r employers.

What Are California Meal Break and Rest Break Laws?

In general, California labor law grants employees meal and rest periods, as well as a broader range of rights. These include anti-discrimination laws, medical leave benefits, and break requirements. However, when it comes to a meal break or rest breaks in particular, an employer must abide by the following laws:

California Meal Break Laws: California wage and hour law entitles non-exempt employees to a 30-minute meal break if they work more than 5 hours a day. This meal break must be provided within the first 5 hours of work, while an employee can decline a meal break if their shift is 6 hours long or less. While on a meal break, an employee is relieved of work duties and is free to leave the workplace premises. If an employee’s workday is more than 10 hours, they are entitled to a second meal break.

Violating this the meal break law can be costly. If an employer doesn’t provide a meal break, the employee is entitled to be paid for the missed meal period, plus one hour of their regular pay. Each day a meal break is missed is considered a separate violation.

Meal Break Laws:

  1. Employees who work for more than five hours in a day must be given a 30-minute meal break.
  2. If an employee works for more than ten hours in a day, they must be given a second meal break of 30 minutes.
  3. During meal breaks, employees must be relieved of all duties and allowed to leave the premises if they choose.
  4. Employees must be paid for their meal breaks if they are not completely relieved of duty.


California Rest Breaks Laws: California employees are also entitled to a 10-minute rest break or rest period for every 4 hours they work. If an employee works a full 8-hour shift, the rest break law entitles that employee to 2 paid 10-minute rest periods, plus an additional 30-minute unpaid meal break. Rest periods are counted as time worked and must be as close to the middle of the employee’s shift as possible. If an employee works less than 3½ hours a day, a paid break is not required.

If an employer violates these rest break rules or denies a worker rest breaks, they may face a legal penalty of one hour of pay for each day the employee was denied a break. Proving an employer violated rest breaks can be challenging, but it is important that a worker keeps track of all the meals breaks and rest breaks, just in case.

However, employees aren’t legally required to use their allotted break time. As rest break violations can be difficult to prove, it’s best to work with a wage and hour attorney for help building meal and rest break violation case.

Rest Break Laws:

  1. Employees who work for more than 3.5 hours in a day are entitled to a 10-minute rest break.
  2. Employees who work for more than 6 hours in a day are entitled to a second 10-minute rest break.
  3. During rest breaks, employees must be allowed to rest and take care of personal needs.
  4. Employers must provide rest breaks to employees and cannot require employees to work during their rest break time.

Employers who violate California meal and rest break laws may be subject to penalties and lawsuits. If a worker believes their employer is not providing them with the required meal and rest breaks, they should contact an employment lawyer to discuss their options.

To Which Employees Do California Meal Breaks and Rest Break Laws Apply?

Only non-exempt employees are covered under these laws. If an employee is legally classified as an independent contractor, meal breaks and rest breaks may not apply. Unionized employees in certain industries also may not be covered for certain meal and rest provisions. For example, those who work in construction, security, commercial driving, electrical or gas, or the motion picture industry may receive meal breaks and rest breaks on a schedule determined by a collective bargaining agreement.

Can You Sue an Employer for Not Allowing Rest or Meal Breaks?

If someone was denied a required meal and rest break, the California Labor Code allows them to sue their employer. However, an employer is not responsible if an employee voluntarily opts to work during a designated meal or rest break. But they’re prohibited from requiring their workers to be “on-call” during meal and rest times. Meal and rest break violations are often the subject of wage and hour class-action lawsuits. In addition to restitution, employers that violate state law may also be required to pay hefty fines.

California Meal Break Law Penalty

In California, if an employer fails to provide an employee with a legally required meal break or rest breaks, the employer may be subject to a penalty. The penalty is one hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate for each day that a meal break was not provided.

For example, if an employee is not provided with a meal break during a 10-hour workday, the employer may be required to pay the employee an additional hour of pay at their regular rate. If this violation occurred for five days, the employer may owe the employee five hours of pay as a penalty for the missed meal period.

Employers may also be required to pay a penalty if they provide an employee with a late meal break. If an employer does not provide a meal break within the first five hours of work, they may be required to pay the employee an additional hour of pay at their regular rate, as well.

It’s important to note that these penalties are in addition to the employee’s regular pay for the work performed. If an employee believes their employer failed to provide them with a legally required meal break or rest breaks, the employee may want to consult with an employment lawyer to discuss options.

Contact Lawyers for Justice, PC

Contact us if you believe your employer has violated your rights under California meal and rest break laws. By working with an employment law attorney, your claim will be carefully assessed. Our legal team in Glendale is committed to helping clients in Los Angeles County and the State of California get as much compensation for their losses as possible. To speak to a California labor law attorney and receive a free case evaluation, call 818-647-9323 today!


what does it mean to waive your meal period? An employee can waive their meal breaks. They can relinquish their right to have a meal period as long as their shift is six hours or less. Meal breaks can only be waived by mutual consent between the employee and employer.

can my employer tell me where to take my break? While employers must require their employees to take a meal and rest break, they are prohibited from directing what an employee does on their break. An employer cannot require an employee to eat their meal during a meal period or go to the bathroom.

can i leave the premises on my lunch break? Yes, California states that employees are permitted to leave their work site during meal and rest breaks.

do you get paid for your lunch break? A meal period is typically not paid. However, if an employer requires an employer to remain on site for rest periods or a meal period, the meal period can be considered “on duty,” counted as hours worked, and paid for at the employee’s regular rate of pay.

do salaried employees have to take a lunch break in California? Exempt employees are entitled to meal breaks, but sometimes not rest breaks.

how many breaks in a 10 hour shift? Employees who work at least 6 hours in a day are entitled to two 10-minute rest breaks, and those who work over 10 hours are entitled to three 10-minute breaks. Theoretically, rest periods must also be spaced out so that they fall in the middle of each work period.

how many breaks in a 12 hour shift? Most California workers must receive an uninterrupted 30-minute unpaid meal break when they work in excess of five hours in a day. An additional 30-minute unpaid meal break must be given when they work more than 12 hours in a day. A paid 10-minute rest period must be given for every four hours worked.