Legal news and tips for employees, by Law Office of Eugene Lee

What Break Periods Am I Entitled To?

california rest break laws meal break lawsUnder California law (which is much more generous to employees than federal law), if you are a non-exempt worker, you are entitled to meal and rest breaks: a 30-minute meal break if you work more than 5 hours in a workday, and 10 minutes breaks for every 4 hours you work. There are other requirements though. If your boss doesn’t comply with break requirements, they are required to pay you one extra hour of regular pay for each day on which a break violation occurred.

For the nitty gritties, see below:

Rest Breaks

  1. If you work at least 3.5 hours in a day, you are entitled to a rest break.
  2. Your boss must give you a rest break of at least 10 consecutive minutes for each 4 hours worked.
  3. Rest breaks must to the extent possible be in the middle of each work period.
  4. Rest breaks must be paid.
  5. Your boss may require you to remain on work premises during your rest break.
  6. You cannot be required to work during any required rest break. [Cal. Lab. C. 226.7]. BUT, you are free to skip your rest break provided your boss isn’t encouraging or forcing you to.

Meal Breaks

  1. If you work over 5 hours in a day, you are entitled to a meal break of at least 30 minutes. BUT, you can agree with your boss to waive this meal period provided you do not work more than 6 hours in the workday. You can also agree with your boss to an on-duty meal break which counts as time worked and is paid.
  2. If you work over 10 hours in a day, you are entitled to a second meal break of at least 30 minutes. You can agree with your boss to waive the second meal break if you do not work more than 12 hours and you did not waive your first meal break.
  3. Your boss has an affirmative obligation to ensure you are free to take your meal break off work premises.
  4. You cannot be required to work during any required rest break. [Cal. Lab. C. 226.7]. Your boss has an affirmative obligation to ensure you are actually relieved of all duty and are not performing any work during meal breaks.

Keep in mind, there are many exceptions to the above for certain industries, such as the healthcare, group home, motion picture, manufacturing, and baking industries.

If your employer is violating your rights to meal and rest breaks, you should contact a lawyer right away. Your claims could be subject to strict filing deadlines. For meal and rest break violations, the filing deadline is usually considered to be 3 years thanks to a recent California Supreme Court decision. [Murphy v Kenneth Cole Productions, 40 Cal.4th 1094 (2007)], but in certain cases, a 1 year filing deadline could apply.

Keep on taking those breaks!

Photo courtesy of cjmellows

  • veronika sanchez

    I always take a lunch after 3 hours of working in a 8 hour day. Is there a law that is against that.

  • Guest

    I work at a restaurant and my employer makes us take our breaks the minute we walk into work. They even made our start times 30 mins sooner to adjust for that. Can they make us take our break that early? I thought I remembered a law about not being able to take a break until the 2 hour of working mark. Am I mislead in that?

  • Tabitha MacAlpin

    I worked 7 hours by myself how illegal is that?

  • Stacey Wadsworth

    I worked 8 hrs a day for this company some days I didn’t get my 10 min break is that legal

  • Robert A Johnson

    I an employee works an 8 hour shift with a rest break after 2.5 hours and a lunch break after 5 hours, are they entitled to a second rest break with only 3 hours left to work after lunch?

  • Jason Koo

    I have one employee who has 7 1/2 hour shift. Am I required to give only one or two breaks? We pay based on 15 minute increaments.

  • Minde Ornelas

    I am the director of a preschool. During the children’s nap time the teachers rotate their lunch breaks, where by state staff ratio laws the number of children to staff doubles. Can I require my teachers to remain on the premises during their break time? This insures that in the even of an emergency like fire alarm, earthquake or other safety issue their are the correct amount of teachers for safety purposes in the classrooms. That means the staff must go back to the children and attend to safety concerns and/or assist them to evacuate, etc…..

  • ashley martinez

    I work as a full-time security officer. My employer recently announced that officers can no longer leave the premises for breaks. We take one 15-20 minute long “rest break” per shift, since we waived our meal breaks/agreed to on-duty meal breaks upon being hired. I know California law states that an employer can require employees to remain on site during rest breaks but the situation that confuses me is this: if an employee has not been relieved for over 5 hours, would they legally be entitled to a 30-minute meal break in which they can leave the job site? Or does the on-duty meal break apply here as well? Thanks!

  • Michael Tran

    is it mandatory to take a hours lunch ? My boss said I need to take a hour lunch when I only take 30min lunch . I work 8 hours on a daily.

  • Sam

    I work P/T and usually work fro 4:30 and get off at 10pm,lately my schedules have been “adjusted to close at 10 pm one day and open the next day at 6am,is there such a law that states a minimum of “rest hours” before starting the next shift ?

    • tentoes

      Typically it’s 8 hours of rest between shifts… but that doesn’t count the time it takes to get home, go to bed, wake-up, shower and drive back in to work… :/

  • Tired

    As an exempt employee, can an organization/company force you to work through your lunch and give you no other breaks? It seems the answer is yes, but I thought I’d check.

  • Sarah

    Today at work, I was scheduled to work 8 am to 3 pm. I had been at work for almost 2 hours already when I looked at the schedule and I noticed that I was only given a 30 minute lunch at 11 am. No 10-15 minute breaks were scheduled for me like they used to do. I called my supervisor and asked her why I didn’t have any 10-15 minute breaks scheduled? Because I was really hungry and needed to eat. Why did I only have a lunch at 11 am? That would mean I would work for 3 hours, have a 30 minute lunch at 11am, then work for another 3 1/2 hours, totaling up to 6 1/2 hours by the end of the day. I asked her if I could have a break at 10 am and a 30 minute lunch at 12 pm instead, because I was really hungry. She said my boss is changing the schedule and doing it this way now. Is this illegal? Did she lie to me? She said she would bring me a food bar and at 10 am, and I could take a break when our other coworker came in, but that was only because I asked her for it and that they weren’t going to schedule breaks for me or anyone else anymore, only a 30 minute meal period. Does it matter that my shift was split by a 30 minute lunch like that or does it matter more that my total hours for today were 6 1/2? 3 hours, 30 minute lunch, then 3 1/2 hours. That’s 6 1/2 total hours worked Am I actually entitled to a 10-15 minute rest period as well? It just still doesn’t seem fair or right to make me work a 6 1/2 hour day without both a 30 minute meal break and a 10-15 rest period. Am I right? Did my supervisor try to cheat me out of a break I’m entitled to or am I wrong? Please help!! Thank you.

  • don

    I worked at a hotel started at 630am had hr lunch 11-1200 then off at 230pm
    I was told I should have had another 10 minute BREAk ?

  • Dario

    For the past year I’ve been working at a restaurant as a cook it has a tendency to be full at times.There I’ve worked 7-8 hours a day 6 days a week without a break in-between. I work from the afternoon to the bight. In the afternoon there’s only two cooks and it gets overwhelming full so much so that if you were to take your brake you would only leave one cook and he wouldn’t be able to do it himself. And in the night time There’s 4 cooks again if one of the cooks were to take their brake the other 3 wouldn’t be able to do it themselves. They use this as justification for not giving me breaks. Now I now this is illegal how can I even begin to file a wage claim?

  • don

    my issue is I worked at a hotel for a year I started at 630am ended 230pm
    lunch break was 11am to 1200. did not get any more breaKS my understanding is this was illegal because I should have gotten anothef 10 or fifteen minute break cab someone respond please/

  • anon

    I worked with a company that didnt pay me my training pay and my last day i worked ontime am i entitled to that 15% interest on my wages

  • Jacqueline

    I own a staffing agency and have an employee that works off-site. She is a RN and she works a 8 hour day, 7am-4pm, she usually take her one hour lunch break at 2:30pm. is that legal? Must she take her lunch break by 12pm? Thanks.

  • Ivan

    I work from 6am to 2:30pm and they give us a 50 min lunch till 12 is that legal

    • WorkForceBabysitter

      You should not have your two paid breaks combined with your unpaid lunch, if that is the situation. You should receive the breaks as close to the middle of each 4 hours as is possible, based on work flow needs. Ideally you would have a 10min around 8 am, 30 min lunch about 10, and another 10 min break about 12pm. I don’t believe it is directly illegal, depending on the nature of the work, as long as you are being paid for 20 minutes of the lunch break.

  • Rachel

    i work from 8:30am to 5:30pm with one hour break, but sometimes i have to leave early at work and so i take my 30min break 12:30-1:00 instead of 12:30-1:30. i clock back in to work and clock out 5:00pm. Is this legal?

  • nope

    Can employer force you to take lunch away from desk? I like to use my work computer while I eat but employer is trying to say we have to leave our desks during lunch now.

    • WorkForceBabysitter

      Your employer has a right to require you to leave the work area during meals. This can be for security purposes by limiting unnecessary access to sensitive material, discouraging personal use of company equipment, and to protect company assets by limiting their exposure to spilled foods and drinks.

  • nope

    Can my employer force me to not eat lunch at my desk? We have a lunch room but it is always croweded so I eat at my desk. They are now saying we cannot do that.

  • LivingOnAPrayer

    I’m a college student working fast food and I primarily work graveyard shift. My employer only has 1 other person on average with me and it’s impossible to take any breaks. I work 10:15pm-6:00am when my co-workers actually show up on time, but most days I’m here until 6:30am with no breaks. Is this legal?

    • Kim

      no this is not legal. if you are working 6.25 hours or more – you are required to take a meal break.

  • Andrea

    What if an hourly employee works 7.5 hours – 9:30am to 6pm. Gets one 15min break at noon and lunch at 230pm.and no break in afternoon. Is the employee enititled to second break in the afternoon?

  • Joe Drake

    My employer regularly gives me my lunch around 1- 12 hours after I clock in for an 8 hour shift. They do this to prevent lunch violations/penalties, but what about all that time on the back half of my shift? If I work from 1- 10, and take a 30 minute lunch from 2- 230, I have 7.5 hours without a lunch. Is this legal? Do they owe me lunch premium?

  • Daniel Garcia

    I work 8hrs a day from 7am-3pm and I dont get lunch nor break. What can I do? Is this illegal?

    Note: My company wanted me to sign a policy about my breaks but they gave it to me about 2 weeks ago and I have been working for them 2 years now why would they give me this notice after 2 years of work…??

    Thank you

    • Jim Reed

      They are asking you to waive your breaks. If you sign the policy letter, it means that you agree not to take a break during your work period, which is legal. The same applies to your lunch break. I think you should contact the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement. Your company has been in violation of California Labor Laws for at least the 2 years you have worked for them. The fact that your company asked you to sign a release indicates that they are knowingly violating California Labor Law. As I understand the labor laws require that you be compensated one hour of pay for each day a violation occurred. An Attorney could advise you better, but I think you might be entitled to $5000 compensation or more.

      • Kay

        In California regardless of when you signed the waiver, the law would still be on your side for all meal breaks missed in the last 2 years. If you file a wage claim they will have to pay you an hour (paid at your hourly rate) for every violation and they cannot retaliate against you for this, you can proceed even further if you face any retaliation. I work in HR and have have combed through a few of these claims.

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