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An Overview Of California’s Meal And Rest Break Laws

As a new employee, you should always read up on the specifics behind the state’s rest and meal break laws. Having a comprehensive understanding of your rights prior to starting a new position will always help you in the long run. All businesses must be in compliance with these labor laws and if they are not, you as an employee have the right to take action.

Below, we have provided an overview of your rights and entitlements under the law, specifically regarding the mandatory meal and rest break requirements for all employers and employees in the state of California. If you believe that your employer has significantly violated the law, please contact Employee Justice Legal Group PC and discuss your concerns with one of our attorneys in a free consultation.

The First Meal Break

In the state of California, all employers must provide hourly-paid employees an uninterrupted 30-minute meal break by the end of the fifth hour of work. Any meal break beginning after the fifth hour of work is a direct violation of California Meal Break Law. An employer fulfills its meal break obligation by providing the employee the opportunity to take an off-duty meal break. The employee must be permitted to stop performing all duties and leave their working premises during their break, otherwise the meal break must be paid.

One potential exception to the law is in the case where an employee only works a shift between five and six hours. In that case, the employer and employee can mutually agree to waive the meal break. That waiver must be voluntary by the employee and is revocable at any time.

The Second Meal Break

A second mandatory 30-minute meal break is required upon working over a 10-hour workday. This second meal break must be taken following the 10th hour of work, at the latest. However, an employee can choose to waive their second meal break as long as:

  • The total hours worked in the day do not exceed 12 hours
  • The employee voluntarily consents to waive the second meal break
  • The first meal break of the day was actually taken by the employee

All three of these prerequisites must be fulfilled in order to waive the second meal break.

Taking ‘On Duty’ Meal Breaks

On-duty meal breaks occur under more specific circumstances and are only permitted when all of the conditions listed below have been met:

  1. Employees are unable to be relieved of all responsibilities
  2. Employer and employee must have a written agreement
  3. On-duty meal breaks have to be paid
  4. Agreement can end at any point via written statement from employee

The last point is an important one. If you don’t feel you can withdraw your consent without punishment, your on-duty meal breaks arrangement may not be legal.

The Basics Of Rest Break Laws

In California, employees must be permitted 10-minute rest breaks approximately every four hours the employee works.

The right of a rest break is triggered once the employees work at least 3.5 hours, and an additional rest break is owed for every additional four hours worked, broken down as follows:

  • 5 – 6 hours: First Rest Break owed
  • 1 – 10 hours: Second Rest Break owed
  • 1 – 14 hours: Third Rest Break owed

These 10-minute rest breaks count as paid hours worked where employers are required to relieve employees of all work responsibilities during these enforced 10-minute rest breaks. Employees are free to spend their break however they so choose. There are few exceptions to this rule, but they can arise within particular work industries. Rest breaks cannot be waived.

Penalties For Missed Meal And Rest Breaks

An employer owes every employee one hour of pay at their regular rate of pay for every day in which those employees missed a meal or rest break. If an employee misses both a meal break and rest break in the same day, the employee is owed two hours of pay.

Speak To Attorneys Who Know The Law And Your Rights

To take advantage of a free initial consultation, contact our Los Angeles office by calling 213-669-4771. You can also reach out online.