Non-exempt employees in California are entitled to short rest breaks throughout the work day. The number of rest breaks that employees are entitled to depends on the total hours worked during the day.

Rest Break Law in California

On-Duty Rest Breaks

Most employees have a right to take off-duty rest breaks. An off-duty rest break requires the employer to relieve the employee of all duty so that they are free to spend the time as they please.

Employers commonly prevent employees from taking off-duty rest breaks by:

  • Requiring employees to carry cell phones with them during their rest break
  • Preventing employees from leaving the job location during their rest break
  • Having no other staff available to cover the position during the

Rest breaks are 10-minute uninterrupted breaks that are on the clock (paid). While you do not have to take your rest breaks, California law does require employers to make them available.  

The number of rest breaks you are entitled to during the workday depends on the total number of hours worked:

  • 0 – 3.5hrs – 0 rest breaks
  • 3.5hrs – 6hrs – 1 rest break
  • 6hrs – 10hrs – 2 rest breaks
  • 10hrs – 14hrs – 3 rest breaks
  • 14hrs – 18hrs – 4 rest breaks
  • 18hrs – 22hrs – 5 rest breaks

Meal Break law in California

How Many Meal Breaks Do You Get

Employees are generally entitled to one 30-minute unpaid meal break for every 5 hours of work during the workday.  In a normal 8-hour shift, an employee is entitled to take one 30-minute meal break.

When Should Meal Breaks Be Given

Employees are generally entitled to one 30-minute unpaid meal break for every 5 hours of work during the workday.  In a normal 8-hour shift, an employee is entitled to take one 30-minute meal break.

While your employer generally must provide the meal break before the fifth hour, few other requirement exist as to when you take your meal break.

Some employers have their employees take their meal breaks immediately when they arrive at work.  This has become more common in the restaurant industry.  Under this practice, an employee who arrives at work clocks in and then immediately clocks out and takes a meal break.

This policy, while inconsistent with the purpose of providing employees an opportunity to eat during the workday, is legal.

Requirements To Be A Valid Meal Break

In order to be a valid meal break, your employer must provide you with the opportunity to take a meal break.  A legal meal break must meet the following requirements:

  • Provided on-time (see When Should Meal Breaks Be Given)
  • At least 30-minutes in length
  • Relieved of all duty (and not otherwise on-call)
  • Uninterrupted by work throughout the break

While your employer must provide you with an opportunity to take a break, they do not have to force you to take a break, or enforce an existing meal break policy.

Meal Break Waivers

Employers have an obligation to provide employees with meal breaks. But the employee does not have to take a break. And the employer does not have to enforce meal breaks. If the employee wishes, they can waive their meal break. Sometimes, employers require employees to sign written meal break waiver forms stating the employee has voluntarily waived the right to take a meal break and instead will work through the meal break.

On-Duty and On-Call Meal Breaks

An on-duty meal break is a meal break the employer requires you to take while working. An on-call meal break is a meal break where you are free to take a meal break, but must be available to return to the job if your presence is required. Generally, on-duty and on-call meal breaks are only allowed under very limited circumstances. Common examples of on-duty and on-call meal breaks include:
  • Requiring employees to carry cell phones with them during their meal break
  • Requiring employees to eat at the job site so they can request they come back to work prior to the end of their meal break
  • Requiring employees to return to work for a short period to complete some task before resuming their meal break

penalties for missed meal and rest breaks in california

Employers who do not provide workers with an opportunity to take meal or rest breaks are liable to those workers for a penalty. The penalty amounts to one hour of wages for each day the employer does not provide a meal or rest break.

Free Case Review

Talk to an Experienced Employment Lawyer About your Meal & Rest Break Claim