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Does CA Require Paid Meal Breaks?

Office employee with smartphone having lunch at workplace, closeup. Food delivery

California law provides certain rights to employees and imposes certain obligations on employers. In addition to minimum wage and overtime laws, California provides covered employees the right to take breaks during a workday. Continue reading to learn about meal breaks and rest breaks in California. For assistance with an employee rights matter in Southern California, call our Orange County labor law attorney for dedicated advice and representation.

CA Law Requires Meal and Rest Breaks

Pursuant to California law, employees who work more than five hours in a workday are likely entitled to a 30 to 60-minute meal break. If the employee works more than 10 hours in a day, they are likely entitled to a second 30 to 60-minute meal break. With limited exceptions, employers cannot require workers to stay on the premises during their meal break, nor can they require the employee to continue working through the break. Absent an exception, if an employee is required to remain at the worksite during their meal break, they are entitled to a penalty as compensation.

Employees can agree to waive their right to their meal break if they will not work more than six hours in the workday. If the employee will not work more than 12 hours in a day, and they already took their first meal break (i.e., they did not waive their right), the employee can agree to waive their second meal break. The meal break waiver must be in writing.

Employers must also provide periodic rest breaks to employees. Workers must be provided an opportunity to take a 10-minute rest break for every four hours of work (or major fraction thereof) performed in a day. For example, an employee who works an eight-hour shift at a retail store must be provided an opportunity to take a 30-60 minute meal break as well as two 10-minute rest breaks during their shift.

If an employee–free from the employer’s pressure–chooses not to take a break, the employer will not be penalized. The California Supreme Court has held that employers are required only to make breaks available, not to police whether each employee actually takes their breaks.

Lunch Breaks Do Not Need to be Paid; Rest Breaks Do

Although employers are required to give covered workers a daily meal break, that break can be unpaid. Employees who work more than five hours in a day are entitled to a 30-60 minute unpaid meal break. The same goes for the second 30-minute break for employees who exceed 10 hours of work in a given day. Many employers choose to include lunch breaks as compensable time, but the law does not require them to do so.

Rest breaks, on the other hand, must be compensated. Employees must be given a 10-minute paid rest break for every four hours of work (or major fraction thereof) in a given day. Employers cannot deduct rest break time from an employee’s total hours.

If you are an employee with a wage & hour dispute, a retaliation matter, or other employee rights issues in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, or San Diego counties, or a California employer dealing with employee rights allegations, wage & hour issues, employee contract disputes, or other employment law issues, contact a skilled and accomplished California employment law attorney at Coast Employment Law at 714-551-9930 for a free consultation.

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