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California Meal And Rest Break Laws: 5 Common Questions


California labor laws are relatively generous compared to federal laws and those of many other states.

In order to benefit from your employee rights under California meal and rest break laws, it's important to be aware of just what these rules and regulations mean for you.

Making Sense of California Meal and Rest Break Laws

In California, what break periods am I entitled to receiving?

Under California meal and rest break laws, you are entitled to one 30-minute meal break and two 10-minute rest breaks for a full 8-hour workday. If you work less than 8 hours per day, the rules entitle you to a ten-minute break for every four-hour work period if you work more than 3.5 hours in a day, and a meal break for every day you work over 5 hours in a day. You are entitled to the second rest break if you work over 6 hours in a day, according to the California Supreme Court. If you work over 10 hours in a day, you are entitled to a second 30-minute meal break, but can waive it. So if you work a 4-hour day, you are entitled to one 10-minute break; if you work a five-and-a-half-hour day, you are entitled to a meal break and one rest break; and if you work a 12-hour day, you are entitled to two meal breaks and three rest breaks. If you work less than 3.5 hours in a day, you are not entitled to any breaks at all.

Your boss is responsible for making sure that you don't have any work responsibilities during your break. If your employer denies you a required break, they are legally required to pay you one additional hour of regular pay for each violation of these rules, up to a maximum of 1 violation per type of violation (meal or rest) per day. There are exceptions to these rules for certain industries, including healthcare.

Are rest breaks paid in California?

California requires employers to pay for their required rest breaks. Under California law, employers must pay employees for their 10-minute rest breaks, but not for their 30-minute meal breaks.

Do California employees have to take their breaks?

Employers must not pressure or knowingly allow employees to work during their breaks, but they do not have to make sure that their employees are not working. Some jobs prevent employees from having an off-duty meal break. If employees agree to an on-duty meal break, then employers must pay the employee for this on-duty break.

What constitutes a meal break?

A meal break is a break of at least 30 minutes where the employee is free to leave the premises. The law does not require employers to pay employees for meal breaks, unless they are on-duty. For a break to count as a meal break, the employer must relieve the employee of all duty. This includes "inactive" duties, like taking phone calls or waiting for deliveries. The employer must not place restrictions on the break that prevent the employee from engaging in private pursuits. California labor regulations provide that if the meal period occurs between 10pm and 7am, there must be food and drink facilities on the premises available to the employee.

Can I waive my break?

In some cases, yes. If you work less than 6 hours per day, you and your employer can mutually agree to waive the requirement of a meal break. Also, if you work more than 10 hours per day (hence triggering the requirement of a second 30-minute meal break) but less than 12 hours per day, you can waive the second meal break. This is only true if you have not waived the first 30-minute meal break of the day.

California Meal and Rest Break Laws: Additional Information

  • California Meal Periods via State of California Department of Industrial Relations
  • California Supreme Court Rules on Employer Meal and Rest Break Obligations via California Courts
  • California Wage and Hour Laws: What Employees Need to Know
  • What are the meal and rest break requirements for California employees? via SHRM.org

As a California worker, you may be entitled to certain meal and rest break periods under state wage and hour laws. If you feel your employer is violating California meal and rest break laws, contact the expert employment attorneys at Hennig Ruiz for a free consultation today.

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