california meal break law, california rest break law

Under California meal break law (which is much more generous to employees than federal labor law), if you are a non-exempt worker, you are entitled to a 30-minute uninterrupted, duty-free meal break if you work more than 5 hours in a workday.  You are also entitled to a 10-minute uninterrupted, duty-free rest breaks for every 4 hours you work (or “major fraction” thereof). If your boss doesn’t comply with break law requirements, they are required to pay you one extra hour of regular pay for each day on which a meal break violation occurred, and another extra hour of regular pay for each day on which a rest break violation occurred.

Meal Break & Rest Break Calculator

This meal break and rest break calculator will tell you how many meal and/or rest breaks you are entitled to under California labor law.

Start of Your Shift (e.g., "9:00 am"): End of Your Shift (e.g., "5:00 pm"):
(The page will refresh after you press "calculate". Scroll down to see results in blue text.)


California Rest Break Law Chart

Hours on the ClockRest Breaks
0 – 3:29 hrs0
3:30 – 6 hrs1
6:01 – 10 hrs2
10:01 – 14 hrs3
14:01 – 18 hrs4
18:01 – 22 hrs5

California Rest Break Requirements

  • Your boss must give you a rest break of at least 10 consecutive minutes that are uninterrupted.
  • Rest breaks must be paid.
  • If you work at least 3.5 hours in a day, you are entitled to one rest break. If you work over 6 hours, you are entitled to a second rest break. If you work over 10 hours, you are entitled to a third rest break.
  • Rest breaks must to the extent possible be in the middle of each work period. If you work 8 hours or so, you should have a separate rest break both before and after your meal break.
  • Your boss may not require you to remain on work premises during your rest breaks.
  • You cannot be required to work during any required rest breaks. [Cal. Lab. C. 226.7]. BUT, you are free to skip your rest breaks provided your boss isn’t encouraging or forcing you to.

California Meal Break Law Chart

Hours on the ClockMeal Breaks
0 – 5 hrs0
5:01 – 10 hrs1
10:01 – 15 hrs2
15:01 – 20 hrs3
20:01 –4

California Meal Break Law Requirements

  • If you work over 5 hours in a day, you are entitled to a meal break of at least 30 minutes that must start before the end of the fifth hour of your shift. 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.
  • If you work over 10 hours in a day, you are entitled to a second meal break of at least 30 minutes that must start before the end of the tenth hour of your shift. 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.
  • You must be allowed to take your meal break off work premises and spend your break how you wish, since it is off the clock.
  • You cannot be required to work during any required meal break. [Cal. Lab. C. 512].
  • As of 2012, your boss has an affirmative obligation to ensure that breaks are made available to you but the actual taking of meal breaks is left to the employee. In other words, you are responsible for “breaking” yourself.

Note, rest breaks and meal breaks are supposed to be separate, they should not be combined. Your boss cannot give you a single 1-hour break and say that that counts as all of your meal breaks and rest breaks.

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

Can I Sue My Employer for Violating California Meal Break and Rest Break Law?

Yes you can, and you should. If your employer is denying you meal breaks and rest breaks, you would be entitled to receive a penalty of 1 hour wages per day you were denied any rest breaks, and an additional penalty of 1 hour wages per day you were denied any meal breaks (for a maximum penalty of up to 2 hours wages per day). We can help you file a California labor board complaint. Give us a call at (213) 992-3299. Note, your claims are 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.

I Am an Exempt Salaried Worker, Can I Still Sue My Employer?

The correct answer is “it depends”. There are many kinds of exemptions under California labor laws. If you are a supervisor, you may fall under the supervisor exemption, otherwise known as the executive exemption. But that exemption has many requirements which your employer may have blown. Also, other kinds of exempt employees are still entitled to meal break and rest break rights. For instance, truck drivers are often considered exempt. However, under California labor laws, they must still receive their meal breaks and rest breaks. Another example are “inside salespeople” who sell products or services while physically stationed at the employer’s office. While normally considered “exempt”, they are still entitled to meal breaks and rest breaks. Again, consult a lawyer to see if your situation qualifies for breaks.

Call (213) 992-3299 and Get Your Labor Board Complaint Started Now

Feel free to give us a call at (213) 992-3299 if you want to discuss filing a labor board complaint. We have successfully obtained awards for our clients in over 97% of our trials and hearings — one of the best trial records in the State of California. Let us put our decades of legal experience to work for you.

Photo courtesy of cjmellows

2,902 Comments

  1. Maria Elena Centeno on May 11, 2021 at 12:18 am

    I ve a couple ? Can employer not pay over time because your job starts at 7pm and you dont finish the job till 6:30 am the next day i took a 1/2 hr lunch and 2 ten min beaks they say no overtime cause its 2 different days…and how bout start a job at 8pm to 3:15 am by the time we leave store i get home around 4am to leave 6 amto another job loation same company to stsrt 6:30 am till about 10:45 am how is my pay calculated

  2. C on May 7, 2021 at 5:15 pm

    I clocked In at 4:30pm and my lunch break is at 5pm. I will work a full shift and won’t get off until 12am. Is this allowed?

    • Joshua Petrie on May 9, 2021 at 8:23 pm

      I think it technically is, but I there might be something wrong with the timing if there’s no rest break before the meal break, as I currently understand it.

  3. Sonia E Howard on May 3, 2021 at 9:03 pm

    I have a question;
    can my employer make me take 1 1/2 lunch so they don’t pay me OT? I am only working 8 hours.

  4. Nathan Drake on May 1, 2021 at 3:07 pm

    As an hourly employee, if I work overtime past the 10th hour but not more than 12 hours, is it my right to waive a 2nd lunch?

    The office manager insists that I clock out for the 2nd lunch after 10 hours but I have a feeling that she’s just trying to save the company 30 minutes of overtime pay.

    • Joshua Petrie on May 7, 2021 at 8:55 pm

      Waiving has to be mutually agreed upon.

      Employer is (or their agents, I assume, are) in charge of the schedule and when breaks are meant to happen.

  5. Stacy on April 26, 2021 at 7:35 pm

    What about in a service industry such as HVAC? Technicians are scheduled jobs throughout the day and sometimes they get “stuck” on a job at a customers home which prevents them from leaving to take their lunch. Are they considered exempt? Is the company penalized for the tech not leaving a customers home to eat and then come back? This is not healthy customer service and just upsets the customers. Even at best scheduling practices, technicians run into issues that may keep them on a repair longer than expected, thus missing the 5 hour mark. What does a company do in this case? Thank you in advance.

    • Joshua Petrie on April 27, 2021 at 8:04 pm

      You pay the meal penalty, would be my guess.

  6. Leo on April 24, 2021 at 7:30 am

    The executive director of my job wants all of us to clock in and out for our 10 min break when we only work 5 hours or so. Is this legal i must know because she has told us in the meeting as well yet is not in the work handbook about clocking in and out for our 10 min.

    • Joshua Petrie on April 26, 2021 at 12:25 pm

      I don’t know how your org is technologically setup, but at my place we have to hit “take a break” but we are paid for the break according to CA labor law. If you are not being paid for your breaks, I think you may want to have a conversation with your HR and/or a lawyer.

    • E on April 30, 2021 at 7:00 pm

      My manager is forcing employees to work 6 days a week, week days 14 hours and Saturday with 8 hours.. and he tells employees that if they don’t work these overtime hours, some temps are not going to get hire
      Is this legal?

  7. William Johnson on April 22, 2021 at 2:37 pm

    We employee around 25 full-time, hourly employees in California, who work between 8-10 hours a day, five days a week. They are all given a minimum 30 minute lunch break as well as two 15-min breaks during the day. My question is, can an employee and employer agree on the times of these breaks? Some employees want to take their lunch after working 3 hours, while others want to wait until they have been working 6 or 7 hours. I had heard their lunch needed to be completed within 5 hours, but if it’s the employees’ choice and the employer allows it, is it still a violation? As an employer, we want to accommodate our employee requests, but also don’t want to get in trouble later. Thoughts or advice?

    • Joshua Petrie on April 22, 2021 at 9:54 pm

      In my opinion (as an Internet bystander) is that everyone should protect themselves by doing what is right according to the labor law.

      Meals are due before the end of the fifth hour, so if someone works past that, a meal penalty (an extra hour of pay) is due. If you’re good paying that extra hour to accommodate requests, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But if you don’t pay the meal penalty, there is a statute of limitations of 3 years that you could be liable for.

      To your first question, the employer dictates the schedule, but it can be agreed with an employee that they would waive the meal period if they do not work more than 6 hours total in the workday.

      Also, if you want to accommodate early lunch requests, that is cool too, so long as the rest breaks are still present in between clock in or out events.

      Ex:
      In: 6am
      Break (paid time): 10 or more min at 8am
      Out: 9am (unpaid meal break) [early, at 3 hours]
      In: 9:30am
      Break (paid time): 10 or more min at at 1pm
      Out: 2:30pm
      Total on-the-clock hours of pay due: 8 hours

      One thing I’m not clear on is if the 5 hour rule can be broken by an early meal. So, if we extended the above example to end at 4:30 that’d be 10 hours of work, but the final leg would be 7 hours long with only a rest break… that seems wrong to me, but I haven’t found anything detailing that particular scenario. Maybe Eugene can chime in.

      • William Johnson on April 28, 2021 at 2:58 pm

        Thanks Joshua, and I agree with your comments, but I am still wondering if an employee and employer can mutually agree that an employee could take their lunch break beyond their first 5 hours of the day (100% the employee’s choice that the employer agrees to). It would never be waived, just delayed to a later time in their shift. Some employees simply like to eat later, or meet friends at a later time, etc. and we wish to accommodate, if allowed.

        Eugene (or anyone with specific knowledge of the answer) can you please chime in?

        Thanks!

        • Joshua Petrie on April 29, 2021 at 12:39 pm

          Devil’s advocate for a moment: If you and your employee agree to this, what is to stop them from later on down the road disagreeing with it and finding out that they are entitled to 3 years worth of penalty pay because your agreement does not override the DLSE’s rulings on the timing of meal breaks?

          And if the employer has an avenue to prevent an employee from taking meals at proper times, isn’t that wrong?

          Rather than answer any question on how can an employer get away with doing the wrong thing and not pay for it, here is the opposite question and answer:

          Q. How does an employer satisfy its obligation to provide a meal period according to the law?

          A.
          An employer is not required to ensure that no work is performed. However, an employer must do more than simply make a meal period “available.” In general, to satisfy its obligation to provide a meal period, an employer must actually relieve employees of all duty, relinquish control over their activities, permit them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break (in which they are free to come and go as they please), and must not impede or discourage employees from taking their meal period. (For employees in the health care industry covered by IWC Orders 4 or 5, however, minor exceptions exist as to the employee’s right to leave the employment premises during an off-duty meal period.) Employers may not undermine a formal policy of providing meal periods by pressuring employees to perform their duties in ways that omit breaks (e.g., through a scheduling policy that makes taking breaks extremely difficult). As the California Supreme Court has noted, “The wage orders and governing statute do not countenance an employer’s exerting coercion against the taking of, creating incentives to forego, or otherwise encouraging the skipping of legally protected breaks.” Which particular facts in any given case will satisfy the employer’s obligation to provide bona relief from all duty may vary from industry to industry. See Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1004.

          from https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/FAQ_MealPeriods.htm

  8. Harley on April 7, 2021 at 12:22 pm

    I work outside in construction in Palm Springs. It gets incredibly hot, so we start as early as we can. All of my fellow employees do not want to take lunch breaks as it causes more physical strain than just working through our 8 with breaks included. Sitting somewhere for 30 minutes cooling down, only to have to get back up and out into the sun is incredibly taxing and pushes the end of our day further into the hottest part of the day. Why in the “land of the free” are we forced into taking a lunch break? It should be my right to choose, is there absolutely no way to protect myself and my employer so we aren’t forced into this?

    • Joshua Petrie on April 8, 2021 at 1:22 pm

      I lived in the Coachella Valley for 30 years and regularly saw workers taking breaks at 9am. I just assumed that was a sort of universal time to “lunch” in that industry.

      That being said, I do see your point that it gets so hot (for me, every degree above 100 is like 10 degrees above 100), but when I worked in paint we had water breaks and meal breaks as normal. I wouldn’t want it any other way, but that’s me.

      So, here’s what I’d point out to answer your question: “An ‘on duty’ meal period will be permitted only when the nature of the work prevents the employee from being relieved of all duty and when by written agreement between the employer and employee an on-the-job meal period is agreed to.”*

      But also, “If your employer fails to provide the required meal [break] period, you are to be paid one hour of pay at your regular rate of compensation (this is referred to as meal period premium pay) for each workday that the meal period is not provided.”*

      So, if you worked an 8 hour day, you’d get 9 hours of pay for not having 30 minutes of no work.

      * https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/FAQ_MealPeriods.htm

  9. Cheyenne Warren on March 27, 2021 at 3:16 pm

    I work in a grocery store and I tend to work a total of 6-7 hours 6 days a week. I’ve been working here for 3 years so far and I’m now questioning how I’ve been being treated as other people are telling me I’m being mistreated. One can they make me work 6 days a week only giving me one day off each week. And second of all they give me my break at my 1 1/2 hour for 10 mins then tell me I need to take my lunch at my 2 1/2-3 hour of work so that they don’t have to worry about breaks and lunches later. Our lunches are 30 mins and then we don’t receive any additional breaks after our lunch is done. Is this kind of treatment legal or even fair.

    • Joshua Petrie on March 28, 2021 at 6:54 pm

      The employer sets the schedule and (as I understand it) is in charge of sending you on breaks.

      Rest breaks, in general, need to be in between clocking in and meal breaks or meal breaks and clocking out.

      One: Yes, they can even ask you to work a 7th day, but you’d be automatically starting on OT if that happened: https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/faq_overtime.htm

      Two: This is almost all right, but I believe you’re due a second rest break. The rest period is based on the total hours worked daily and must be at the minimum rate of a net ten consecutive minutes for each four hour work period, or major fraction* thereof.” (*anything more than two hours, unless the total hours worked in a day are less than 3.5) https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/faq_restperiods.htm

      Because of two, I’d open a dialogue through HR and see what can be done. The statute of limitations on this stuff is supposed to be 3 years.

  10. Dori on March 21, 2021 at 8:32 pm

    My boyfriend mostly works 5-6 hour shifts but sometimes when the store has to close later with no warning, he works 7 hours straight. And whenever that happens, his manager fixes the time sheet so that he doesn’t get overtime for the meal violation. Who should he contact if this continues?

  11. Mo Velasquez on March 18, 2021 at 8:12 am

    My wife recently started a new job as an Assisted Living Specialist and she was asked to sign a piece of paper that essentially gives up her right to lunch or uninterrupted breaks. She works 8-9 shifts and has to sneak in lunches between clients. She is also scheduled by management with back-to-back clients and not afforded any break time in between. I think this is illegal, but I don’t know if, by making her sign a contract, they’ve protected themselves.

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