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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.