WAGE & HOUR LAW: MEAL AND REST PERIODS

What meal and rest breaks am I entitled to?
Before considering the daily schedule for taking meal and rest breaks, a few questions can determine whether you are entitled to them under California law:

  • Are you (or were you, during the time period in question) employed in California? (Federal law does not address meal or rest breaks)
  • Were you paid on an hourly basis, or were you improperly classified as an overtime-exempt employee?
  • Did the denial of meal or rest periods occur within the past four years? In California, these claims can be brought up to four years after they arise.
  • If questioning a meal period practice, did you agree, in writing, to waive your meal period?
  • If you agreed, in writing, to waive your meal period, did that waiver allow you to revoke it at your discretion?
  • What were your particular job duties during the time period in question? (Keep in mind that most waivers are not legal)

What is the meal break schedule in California?
An employer may not employ an hourly worker for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with a meal period of at least 30 minutes. As a practical matter, this means non-exempt workers should try to take meal periods as close to the middle of the shift (assuming an eight hour workday) as possible. In some situations, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee.

Finally, if you work more than 10 hours in a day, the employer must usually provide you with a second meal period of at least 30 minutes.

Make sense? If not, just call us.

What is the rest break schedule in California?
Most employees are permitted to take rest breaks, meaning that they are entitled to a paid and uninterrupted break of 10 minutes every four hours (or close to four hours).

Although you may be entitled to a rest break, sometimes you can waive that break. However, you are not technically “on break” if you are also “on call” or required to watch over the work of others or the facility.

These summaries are merely overviews of the meal and rest break laws in California. For details regarding your entitlement to breaks, contact our office.

What happens if my employer refuses to let me take breaks?
You may be entitled to receive one extra hour of pay every day if your employer violates the meal or rest break laws. You may be entitled to two hours of pay if your employer violates both (i.e., meal AND rest) break rules on any given day.

Bottom line: If your employer is violating these rules on a regular basis, you may be entitled to a significant amount of back pay.


These questions and answers are for educational purposes only and cover just a few topics that are commonly of interest to workers. This material should not be construed as legal advice, the establishment of an attorney-client relationship, or as indicative of a particular outcome regarding any legal issue you might have. This information is only a summary of California law.