What to Know

California Missed Meal and Rest Break Laws

California Missed Meal and Rest Break Laws.

If you are not able to take your meal periods or rest breaks 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 everywhere in California.

California Meal Period and Rest Break Laws

In California, non-exempt employees are entitled to a meal period and rest breaks. These employees must receive an unpaid 30-minute lunch break, and two paid 10-minute rest breaks per eight-hour work shift. Non-exempt employees who work four hours must receive a 10-minute rest break; this break must be scheduled in the middle of an employee's shift, as long as it is practical to do so.

How Meal Periods in California Work

California employers must provide a meal period of at least 30 minutes to any employee who works a minimum of five hours per day. The only exception to this is if the entire work period lasts six hours. In this scenario, both the employer and employee must mutually agree to waive the meal period.

An employee in California who works ten or more hours per day is entitled to two meal periods. However, an employee can waive their second meal period in instances where their entire workday lasts 12 hours. In this instance, the employee and their employer must mutually agree to waive the second meal period so long as the employee has not waived their first meal period.

What Is an "On-Duty" Meal Period in California?

"On-duty" meal periods are only allowed in very specific situations. There must be a written agreement between the employer and the employee that an on-duty meal period, the agreement can be revoked by either the employee or the employer at any time, and – most importantly when the nature of the job itself prevents a worker from being relieved. An example would be a lone security guard working at a remote site. If the requirements are not met, the employer is simply not complying with California law regarding meal periods and can be liable to pay the employee a premium wage of one hour at the employee's regular rate of pay.

Where the requirements are met, the period is considered part of the employee's hours worked, and the employer must compensate the worker for the time worked.

How Rest Breaks Work in California

Rest break laws in California state employees who work more than 3.5 hours in a day are entitled to a 10-minute rest break. This break is considered part of an employee's hours worked. The employer must compensate the employee during their rest break.

An employee who works more than 3.5 hours is eligible for one rest break. If an employee works more than six hours, the work is entitled to two rest breaks. Employees who work more than 10 hours are eligible for three rest breaks.

Each rest break should be scheduled in the middle of an employee's work period, to the extent where it is possible to do so. For example, an employee may be scheduled to work a five-hour shift. The worker's employer should try to schedule the employee's rest break approximately 2.5 hours after this individual's shift starts.

Are Employers Required to Track Meal Periods and Rest Breaks?

In California, employers must track meal periods but not rest breaks. Under federal law, meal periods that last at least 30 minutes are not compensable. Employers may require workers to clock out when they take their meal periods. At these times, employers can track employees' meal periods.

Comparatively, rest breaks are rarely tracked. Employers can give workers these breaks as part of their compensable work hours.

What Happens If a California Employer Does Not Record an Employee's Meal Breaks?

California law states that an employer must maintain accurate information relative to workers' meal breaks. If an employer does not track this information, an employee can claim that no meal break was provided. The employer cannot provide evidence to dispute a worker's claim, and the employer can be held liable for its actions.

Common Meal Period and Rest Break Violations in California

There are many ways in which an employer can violate meal period and rest break laws in California. These include:

  • An employer does not provide a meal period or rest break.
  • An employer discourages a worker from taking a meal period or rest break.
  • An employer requires an employee to work during a meal period or rest break.
  • An employer provides a meal period that is less than 30 minutes.
  • An employer provides a rest break that is less than 10 minutes.

What Are the Damages If an Employer Is Held Responsible for Meal Period and Rest Break Violations?

If a meal period was not provided in a given workday in violation of California law, an employee must be compensated with one extra hour of pay at the worker's regular rate of pay. This applies to each day a worker is not given a meal period. For example, if an employee is not given a meal period on three consecutive workdays, this worker can receive three extra hours of pay.

In cases where an employee is not given a rest break, an employee can be provided with one extra hour of pay at the worker's regular rate of pay. For instance, a worker may not receive a rest break for five consecutive days. At this point, the worker can get five extra hours of pay.

Along with compensation for missing a meal period or rest break, a worker is entitled to their regular rate of pay for any hours worked. If an employer does not comply with California and federal laws regarding meal and rest periods, the employer can face a lawsuit and other penalties.

What Should an Employee Do If a Meal Period or Rest Break Is Missed?

An employee should request a meal period or rest break based on their work shift. If a meal period or rest break is missed, consult with an employer. At this time, the employer can make sure the worker is compensated properly based on the meal period or rest break that this individual did not receive.

If an employee repeatedly finds an employer prevents, delays, discourages, or pressures employees from taking their meal periods or rest breaks, it can be beneficial to consult with a California employment lawyer. This allows a worker to speak with an employment attorney who can review their claim and help this individual file a lawsuit against their employer.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Meal Period or Rest Break Lawsuits in California?

There is a three-year statute of limitations from the date of a missed meal period or rest break to file a claim against their employer. If the employee waits too long, the worker loses their opportunity to seek damages in an employment lawsuit.

Should an Employee Track Their Meal Periods and Rest Breaks?

Tracking meal periods and rest breaks can make a world of difference. Doing so ensures a worker gets meal periods and rest breaks based on the number of hours worked. It also helps an employee create a body of evidence that can potentially be used against an employer in a lawsuit.

Who Is Considered a Non-Exempt Worker in California?

Non-exempt workers are protected under California and federal labor laws. They are eligible for meal periods, rest breaks, and overtime pay. If a non-exempt worker's rights are violated, this individual can sue their employer accordingly.

Exempt workers are ineligible for meal periods, rest breaks, and overtime pay. These workers use independent judgment and discretion and perform administrative, professional, or executive tasks. They also earn a salary that is at least twice that of California's minimum wage for full-time employment.

It is an employer's responsibility to classify its non-exempt and exempt workers properly. If an employer misclassifies a worker, it can receive financial penalties. In addition, the employer can face lawsuits.

For more information

Call us at 888-762-0297. We handle meal break and rest 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 throughout all of California.

Last updated on November 15, 2022.

Related Articles

Employee Misclassification as an Independent Contractor

California Lunch Break Laws

Rest Breaks at Work - California Laws

Additional Resources

California Labor Commissioner's Office FAQ on Meal Periods

US Department of Labor's Page on Breaks and Meal Periods