What to Know

California Lunch Break Laws

California Lunch Break or Meal Break Laws.

If you suspect meal period violations, speak with a skilled employment law attorney at The Sempers Law Firm to discuss your particular situation. Call 888-762-0297 to schedule a free consultation.

We represent clients in Los Angeles and other cities in California.

Lunch break, meal break, meal period: What is the difference?

The terms "lunch break," "meal break," and "meal period" are used interchangeably when talking about an employer-provided unpaid, uninterrupted meal period lasting 30 minutes for non-exempt employees who work more than 5 hours in a workday.

Employees are free to spend the 30 minutes of their meal break to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, run their personal errands, or do anything they want without interruptions. Under California law, employees are also entitled to a 10-minute uninterrupted rest break for every 4 hours worked – or major fraction thereof, in a workday.

Are exempt (salaried) employees entitled to lunch breaks?

Some employees, frequently those who are salaried, are not entitled to a lunch break. The California Labor Code uses the following three requirements to determine whether an employee is salaried and exempt from the state's meal break requirements:

  • Salary. The employee is paid at least twice the California minimum wage for full-time employment.
  • Duties. The employee's primary duties are considered "exempt" and include performing executive, administrative, or professional tasks.
  • Independent judgment. The employee customarily and regularly uses discretion and independent judgment in performing their duties.

California's lunch break requirements also do not apply to workers classified as independent contractors, and there are certain other exceptions.

Are non-exempt (hourly) employees entitled to lunch breaks?

Yes, California Labor Code § 512 requires employers to provide a 30-minute lunch break to non-exempt employees who work more than five hours in a workday. Non-exempt employees are entitled to two lunch breaks if they work at least 10 hours in a shift.

Can I work 6 hours without a lunch break in California?

Under California Labor Code, employees who work more than five hours in a workday are entitled to a 30-minute meal break. However, employees have a right to waive their lunch break as long as they work no more than six hours in a shift.

Thus, the answer to your question is, "You can work without a lunch break if you work for 6 hours or less."

Can I work 8 hours without a lunch break in California?

No, you cannot work eight hours without a lunch break in California. Under California law, any employee who works at least six hours in a workday is not permitted to waive their lunch break. If you work eight hours, you are also entitled to two 10-minute rest periods.

Can I waive my lunch break in California?

Yes, you and your employer may mutually agree to waive your lunch break. In other words, you can relinquish your right to have a lunch break as long as your shift is six hours or less. Meal breaks can only be waived by mutual consent of the employee and employer. You may also waive your second meal break if you work no more than 12 hours, have not waived your first meal period.

Are lunch breaks paid or unpaid in California?

Contrary to popular belief, employers in California are not legally required to pay employees for lunch breaks. While the California Labor Code requires employers to provide a lunch break if the employee works at least five hours in a workday, the break can be unpaid.

Unpaid lunch break: Can my employer force me to take it?

You are free to skip your lunch or rest break if you want to. Your employer cannot force you to take a meal break. Your employer's responsibility is to provide the opportunity for you to have an uninterrupted 30-minute meal break, but whether to take a lunch break is up to you.

Unpaid lunch break: Can my employer require me to stay on-premises?

Employers are obligated to allow their employees to do whatever they want during their lunch breaks. Under California law, your employer must relieve you of all your duties during your meal break. In fact, your employer cannot require you to stay on the work premises. You are free to leave the office or another work location during the 30 minutes of your meal break.

However, in limited cases, an employee may be required to take their meal break on the premises (e.g., a security guard or a sole employee). In such cases, the employee must be paid during their lunch break even if they are relieved of their duties.

Can I sue my employer for not giving me a lunch break?

Yes, you can sue your employer for failing to provide a lunch or rest break. If your employer is guilty of a meal period violation, you are entitled to one extra hour of pay compensated at your regular hourly rate.

Employees can sue their employers for denying lunch breaks or a premium of one hour's pay instead.

What should I do if my employer doesn't allow me to take a lunch break?

Do not hesitate to speak with an experienced employment lawyer if your employer does not allow you to take a lunch break. Your attorney will help you prepare a meal period violation claim against your employer to hold them accountable for violating your rights.

California law imposes strict deadlines on meal and rest break violation claims, which is why it is vital to get in touch with a skilled attorney as soon as possible.

Lunch break penalty in California

For each workday that your employer does not provide a lunch break to which you are entitled, the employer must pay an extra hour of pay at your regular rate of compensation. The premium for missed meal and rest periods is based on the employee's hourly wage.

Is it legal to make me work through my lunch break in California?

Under California Labor Code § 226.7, employers cannot require employees to continue working through their lunch break, nor can they require an employee to remain "on-call" during the meal period.

If your employer makes you work through your lunch break, your employer denies you the meal break to which you are entitled. In that case, contact an attorney to hold your employer responsible for the meal period violation.

Is it legal for my employer to call/text/email me during lunch break?

If you feel obligated to return a phone call or answer a text or email from your employer during your lunch break, you may be entitled to compensation for performing work during the meal period. Consult with a lawyer to determine whether your employer has violated your rights during your lunch or meal break.

For more information

To discuss your case, call us at 888-762-0297. We handle lunch break or meal break violations all the time.

Your consultation will be confidential, informative, and free.

We take all cases on contingency and advance all costs - which we only are reimbursed if we successfully recover on your behalf.

We represent clients in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Orange County, and Northern and Southern California.

Last updated on September 22, 2021.

Additional Resources

• California Labor Code § 226.7 explains meal/rest/lunch break laws