A Review of California’s Meal and Rest Break Requirements


Employers’ non-compliance with meal and rest break requirements accounts for a large percentage of civil litigation and Labor Commissioner disputes between employees and employers in California.

It is critical for employers to understand California’s meal and rest break requirements to ensure compliance with these laws and avoid potential litigation. If you are not sure whether or not you comply with the requirements for mandatory breaks, consider speaking with a lawyer.

What Are the Meal Break Requirements in California?

Under California Labor Code Section 512, employers must provide employees with a 30-minute meal break if the employee works more than five hours in a workday. The meal break must be taken before the fifth hour of the workday and can be unpaid. An employee has a right to waive the mandatory meal break as long as their workday is not longer than six hours.

An employee who works over 10 hours a day is entitled to two 30-minute meal breaks. The employee may waive the second meal break if the two conditions are met:

  • The workday does not exceed 12 hours; and
  • The employee did not waive their first meal break.

The California Labor Code prohibits employers from requiring their employees to work during the meal break.  The law further requires that employers keep records of when employees take their meal breaks.

What Are the Rest Break Requirements in California?

All employees are entitled to a 10-minute rest break for every four hours worked, or “major fraction thereof,” in a workday. Rest breaks are considered paid time and must be counted as the employee’s time worked. If practicable, the rest break should be in the middle of the work period.

Under California law, rest breaks are not required if an employee works less than 3 1/2 (three and a half) hours in a workday.

Which Employees Are Entitled to Meal and Rest Breaks?

Under California law, meal and rest break requirements apply to non-exempt employees. An employee is usually considered exempt if they meet the following criteria:

  • The worker spends more than 50% of their workday doing work that is primarily managerial, intellectual, or creative;
  • The worker regularly exercises discretion and independent judgment when performing their work duties; and
  • The worker’s monthly salary is at least twice the minimum wage for full-time employment in California.

The meal and rest break requirements also do not apply to independent contractors in California.

Can Your Employees Sue You for Violating California’s Meal and Rest Break Law?

Yes, employees can sue their employers for denying them meal or rest breaks to which they are entitled under the California Labor Code. Each violation is equivalent to an additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay.

For example, if you deny meal and rest breaks to an employee for 100 days of their employment, you would owe the employee 200 hours’ worth of pay at their regular rate. If the employee makes $14 per hour, 200 hours’ worth of pay will amount to $2,800.

It is vital to understand California’s meal and rest break requirements to ensure that you do not violate state laws and avoid significant legal and financial repercussions for every violation. Contact our Silicon Valley and Los Angeles employment lawyers at Structure Law Group to discuss your case. Call (408) 441-7500.