California's Meal & Rest Period Rules

Is Your Employer Not Giving Breaks in California?

Has your employer required you skip your meal or rest break due to a busy period during the workday? Are they legally allowed to do that? In California, employees who are considered non-exempt have a legal right to receive meal breaks and rest periods through the course of their shift. The length of their shift will determine the number of breaks an employee is entitled to. Failing to provide these rest periods or meal breaks can have serious consequences for employers.

Rest & Meal Breaks per Shift

Employees are entitled to a certain number of rest breaks and meal breaks per shift, but the number of breaks varies, depending on the length of the shift. These breaks are divided into paid 10-minute rest breaks and unpaid 30-minute meal breaks. Different lengths of shifts can require different combinations of breaks.

Non-exempt employees are entitled to meal breaks every five hours worked. These meal breaks should be unpaid, off-duty meal breaks of at least 30 minutes. The meal break must occur before the end of the fifth hour. For the meal break requirement to be fully met, an employer must relieve the employee of all duties, and cannot discourage employees from taking meal breaks.

Shift Length and Breaks in California

  • Less than 3.5 Hours: No rest or meal breaks.
  • 3.5 to 5 Hours: 1 rest break, no meal breaks.
  • 5.1 to 6 Hours: 1 rest break, 1 meal break
  • 6.1 to 10 Hours: 2 rest breaks, 1 meal break
  • 10.1 to 14 Hours: 3 rest breaks, 2 meal breaks
  • More than 14 hours: 4 rest breaks, 2 meal breaks

Lunch Waivers

It is possible to waive a lunch break if an employee is only working six hours, but both the employee and the employer must give consent. If an employee is scheduled to work more than 10 hours, then the employer is required to offer a second meal break by the end of the 10th hour. The employee is entitled to waive their second meal break if they are only working a total of 12 hours.

Employee Break Rights in California

Employers are required to provide breaks to their employees, as outlined in California employment laws. There are some situations where specific breaks may be waived if both the employee and the employer agree to it. By definition, a rest period is a paid, uninterrupted period 10 minutes where an employee is not required to work. A meal break is an unpaid, uninterrupted period of 30 minutes, during which an employee is free to attend to their personal business, including eat.

Penalties for Denying Breaks

If a single break is denied during the course of a shift, the employee is entitled to 1 hour of extra pay at the employee’s regular hourly rate. If multiple breaks are denied, the employee should earn up to 1 hour of extra pay per workday, and an additional hour per workday for the missed breaks.

If the employer refuses to pay employees additional wages for missed breaks, the employees may dispute their missing wages. There are 3 ways employees can fight for their rightful wages:

  • Resolve their dispute informally with their employer
  • File a lawsuit
  • File a wage claim with California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE)

The employee’s specific situation is important to consider when resolving wage claims. The DSLE is designed to reduce the employee’s risks and costs when it comes to a claim and is often an excellent method to recover missing wages. There is a strict deadline to file a claim, however. Employees have 3 years from the date of the break period violation to file a claim with the DSLE.

Call a California Employment Lawyer at (888) 796-4010

Marder Employment Law believes that every employee should receive their rightful wages and breaks. Attorney Bill Marder is a Hollister employment lawyer who is backed by more than 20 years of experience defending the rights of employees. He is committed to providing his clients with efficient, one-on-one representation to resolve their employment law issues.

Learn how Bill Marder can help you. Contact his offices to request a free consultation. Se habla Español.
Our offices are located throughout California.

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