California Law: Meal and Rest Breaks

Meal and rest breaks are mandated by the state and allow employees to re-energize and reset during their workday. Surprisingly, providing a lunch break is not a federal requirement, however allowing employees to take breaks can reduce safety-related incidents in many industries. Failing to give an employee adequate breaks can result in steep fines from the state.

Discussing of Work at Lunch

California Law: Meal and Rest Breaks

Employees in California are legally owed meal and rest breaks depending on the amount of time worked. Here are the standard requirements for meal and rest breaks under California law.

Rest Breaks

Rest breaks are uninterrupted periods of time where employees are relieved of all duties. If a rest break is interrupted, the employer could be liable to pay employees for a full hour of work if it does not provide another break. California offers paid, ten-minute rest periods to employees based on the number of hours they work each day. Employees are entitled to the following paid rest breaks in a workday:

  • At least 3.5 hours: 1 paid break.
  • Between 6 and 10 hours: 2 paid breaks.
  • More than 10 hours: 3 paid breaks.

If an employee does not work for at least 3.5 hours, they do not receive a paid rest break. Employees are not able to save up or take multiple breaks at once.

Meal Breaks

Unlike rest breaks, meal breaks are unpaid under California law. The employee should still be relived of all duties and be allowed to leave the premises. Employees are entitled to the following meal periods in a workday:

  • More than 5 hours: 1 meal break.
  • More than 10 hours: 2 meal breaks.

If an employee is working less than 6 hours in a day, they are allowed to give up their right to a rest break.

“On-Duty” Meal Breaks

If the employee’s position does not allow them to be relived of all duties, they may take an “on-duty” meal break at their regular rate of pay. This must be agreed upon by both parties in writing.

Do Employees Have to Take Breaks?

In 2012, the California Supreme Court issued an important decision about meal and rest break requirements. Employers must allow employees to leave the workplace premises for 30 minutes during a meal break. Employees are to be relieved of all work during this time. The court also decided that employers are not required to force employees to take their breaks, but only to provide an opportunity.

Meal and rest break laws apply differently to each business and industry. For help with employment law, contact Structure Law Group today to learn what specific employment laws apply to your business.


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