California employers often unknowingly, or knowingly, deprive employees of their necessary lunch breaks. Here is the truth about meal and rest breaks for California Employees.

Meal Breaks:

Under California labor law, employees who work 5 or more hours per day are allowed a 30-minute meal break. An employee can waive this meal break if he or she works less than 6 hours per day. For example, Joe works a 6-hour shift at a grocery store. Joe is entitled to only one 30-minute meal break per shift, which he may waive.

Employees who work 10 or more hours per day must be given a second 30-minute meal break, totaling two 30-minute meal breaks. An employee can waive this second meal break if his or her workday is 12 hours or less and if he or she did not waive the first meal break. For example, Sandra works an 11-hour shift at a bagel factory. Sandra is entitled to two 30-minute meal breaks during her shift. Under California law, she is allowed to waive only one of these meal breaks.

Rest Breaks:

Under California law, employers must allow rest breaks for their employees.

For every 4 hours worked, an employee is entitled to 10 or more minutes of a rest break. One must note that the length of a rest break must be reasonable. This rest break must be taken in the middle of the employee’s work period and considered paid time. Employees who work 3 and a half hours or less per day are not lawfully entitled to a rest break. For example, Jared works an 8-hour shift as a bank teller. Jared is entitled to at least a 20-minute rest break, in addition to a 30-minute meal break.

Not all employees are allowed meal and rest breaks. In California, meal and rest break laws only apply to non-exempt employees.

White-collar employees who meet all of the following requirements are exempt from California meal and rest break laws:

  • Spend half or more of their workday doing intellectual, managerial or
  • Perform independently without consulting a manager
  • Earn a monthly salary equal to twice or more of the California minimum wage for full-time employment

Independent contractors are also exempt from California meal and rest break laws. Additionally, certain unionized employees are exempt from California meal and rest break laws.

Employees in the following occupations may be considered exempt from California meal and rest break laws:

  • construction workers,
  • commercial drivers,
  • security officers,
  • electrical or gas company repairmen, or
  • in the motion picture industry

Employees may NOT be required to remain “on call” during meal or rest breaks. California employees are entitled to meal breaks completely separate from any work-related activity.

If your employer asks you to eat while working, or remain on call during your rest break, he or she is denying you of your lawfully required meal or rest break. However, your employer is not responsible if you voluntarily choose to work during your meal or rest breaks.

“On duty” meal periods (when employees must work while eating) are only permitted if:

  • the nature of the occupation disables the employee from leaving his or her shift (for example, a security guard is the only person on duty)
  • the employee agrees in writing to waive his or her meal periods. The employee can revoke this agreement at any time

California employees are allowed to sue their employers for denying them their entitled meal and rest breaks under California Labor Law.

According to California law, employers who deny their employee of meal breaks owe their employee one hour’s pay for each break he or she was not allowed to take.

For example, if your employer denied you 250 meal breaks and you earn $20 per hour, your employer owes you $5,000.

Am I allowed to take a meal break?

Under California labor law, employees who work 5 or more hours per day are allowed a 30-minute meal break. An employee can waive this meal break if he or she works less than 6 hours per day. For example, Joe works a 6-hour shift at a grocery store. Joe is entitled to only one 30-minute meal break per shift, which he may waive.

Employees who work 10 or more hours per day must be given a second 30-minute meal break, totaling two 30-minute meal breaks. An employee can waive this second meal break if his or her workday is 12 hours or less and if he or she did not waive the first meal break. For example, Sandra works an 11-hour shift at a bagel factory. Sandra is entitled to two 30-minute meal breaks during her shift. Under California law, she is allowed to waive only one of these meal breaks.

Am I allowed to take a rest break?

Under California law, employers must allow rest breaks for their employees.

For every 4 hours worked, an employee is entitled to 10 or more minutes of a rest break. One must note that the length of a rest break must be reasonable. This rest break must be taken in the middle of the employee’s work period and considered paid time. Employees who work 3 and a half hours or less per day are not lawfully entitled to a rest break. For example, Jared works an 8-hour shift as a bank teller. Jared is entitled to at least a 20-minute rest break, in addition to a 30-minute meal break.

Are all employees allowed meal and rest breaks?

Not all employees are allowed meal and rest breaks. In California, meal and rest break laws only apply to non-exempt employees.

White-collar employees who meet all of the following requirements are exempt from California meal and rest break laws:

  • Spend half or more of their workday doing intellectual, managerial or
  • Perform independently without consulting a manager
  • Earn a monthly salary equal to twice or more of the California minimum wage for full-time employment

Also, independent contractors are also exempt from California meal and rest break laws.

Additionally, certain unionized employees are exempt from California meal and rest break laws.

Employees in the following occupations may be considered exempt from California meal and rest break laws:

  • construction workers,
  • commercial drivers,
  • security officers,
  • electrical or gas company repairmen, or
  • in the motion picture industry

Can my employer force me to work during meal or rest breaks?

Employees may NOT be required to remain “on call” during meal or rest breaks. California employees are entitled to meal breaks completely separate from any work-related activity.

If your employer asks you to eat while working, or remain on call during your rest break, he or she is denying you of your lawfully required meal or rest break. However, your employer is not responsible if you voluntarily choose to work during your meal or rest breaks.

“On duty” meal periods (when employees must work while eating) are only permitted if:

  • the nature of the occupation disables the employee from leaving his or her shift (for example, a security guard is the only person on duty)
  • the employee agrees in writing to waive his or her meal periods. The employee can revoke this agreement at any time

Am I allowed to sue my employer for California meal and break law violations?

California employees are allowed to sue their employers for denying them their entitled meal and rest breaks under California Labor Law.

According to California law, employers who deny their employee of meal breaks owe their employee one hour’s pay for each break he or she was not allowed to take.

For example, if your employer denied you 250 meal breaks and you earn $20 per hour, your employer owes you $5,000.

We’re Here For You

If you have any questions regarding California labor laws or would like to discuss your case confidentially, we invite you to contact us at Pride Legal. Do not hesitate to take action in the face of employer misconduct.

To protect your rights, hire someone who understands them.