California Meal Break Law 2020

Employers in California must provide both meal and rest breaks to their employees

California Laws on Meal Break and Rest Break in 2020

Missing your meal breaks or rest breaks at work? Does your employer in California give you meal and rest breaks? Does your employer get penalized for denying employees meal and rest breaks? Read on to know the California rules on meal breaks and rest breaks along with some of the most frequently asked questions on California meal break law.

California Meal Break Law 2020

Under California’s meal break law, the employer must provide employees with an unpaid meal break for every 5 hours they work. Each meal break must be uninterrupted and duty-free for at-least 30 minutes duration. Employees can spend 30 minutes of meal break on their personal business such as meals, errands or anything they choose. This meal break can be waived with the mutual agreement between the employee and the supervisor, provided the employee does not work for more than 6 hours in a day.

california meal break law

Employees who work for more than 10 hours a day are entitled to take a second meal break that must start before the end of the tenth hour of the shift. The second meal break can be waived with the agreement between the employee and the supervisor provided the employee does not work for more than 12 hours and the first meal break was not waived.

Employer must relieve employees of all duties and permit a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted meal break of 30 minutes. However, employers cannot stop employees from taking meal breaks, create incentives to skip breaks or create a culture that would encourage them to skip breaks.

Under California’s meal break law 2020, Employers must provide meal breaks but do not have to monitor if the employees are taking those breaks. Employers who fail to provide or deny a proper meal break to a non-exempt employee, the premium (penalty) owed is one hour of extra pay for each work day this violation occurs.

california meal break

On-Site Meal Break Requirements:

Some jobs may require employees to take their meal breaks on site. For ex: A security guard stationed alone at a location or a sole employee in an all night convenience store cannot leave their job in such a way that would qualify as meal break because they cannot be relieved off their duties as discussed above.

Under such circumstances, employers must provide a suitable place to eat and the employee must be paid even if they are not relieved off their duties. The employer must also provide the employee a facility for securing hot food and drink or for heating hot food or drink if a meal period occurs during a shift beginning or ending at or between 10 PM and 6 AM.

California Rest Break Law

The general rule of thumb for California break law is that employers provide employees 10 minutes rest break for every 4 hours worked. These rest breaks are to be taken in the middle of each 4 hour period. However, non-exempt employees who work for less than three-and-a-half hours are not entitled to rest breaks.

Unlike meal breaks which are unpaid, rest breaks are paid, they are counted as time worked and employers should not deduct wages for employees taking rest breaks. During the break, employees must be relieved of all the duties and the employer must provide a suitable resting facility in an area separate from the toilet room. Also, employers cannot ask employees to remain on-site or on-call during rest breaks. Know more on California Rest Break Laws here!

Penalties for Employers denying breaks

Some companies may fail to provide meal or rest breaks out of ignorance, others may do it to save money. If any employer in the state of California denies meal breaks or rest breaks to its employees, they can be penalized under the California’s Meal break law. The law states that, if such a violation occurs, then the employer must pay the employee one extra hour of pay at their regular hourly rate for each workday. This additional pay is referred as “premium pay”.

In case the employer fails to pay the premium amount, the employee can file a wage claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement or file a lawsuit against the employer. An employee can file a wage claim within 3 years from the date of violation. In such cases, the employer may be discriminate or retaliate against employees for filing a claim with the Labor commission or asking about a missed breaks.

It is best to consult and employment attorney to assess your options as not all employers may be willing to handle the dispute informally as each dispute is unique.

Frequently asked questions on California break laws:

  1. When are California Employees entitled to Meal Breaks?
    1. Under California Labor Law, employers must allow employees working in California to take a 30-minute meal break after every 5 hours of work. Meal breaks are unpaid, but must be uninterrupted and the employees are permitted to go off-site and spend the time on any of their personal business.
  2. When are California employees entitled to rest breaks?
    1. Under California’s Labor Law, employees are entitled to take a 10 minutes rest break for every 4 hour period. In practical, these breaks are to be provided in the middle of the work period. These breaks are not required for employees whose total daily work time is less than three-and-a-half hours.
  3. Is there a penalty if meal breaks aren’t taken or are shorter than what’s mandated?
    1. Under California law, all nonexempt employees working in California are entitled to get meal breaks and rest breaks by their employers. Yes, there is a penalty for employers if they don’t provide a meal break to nonexempt employees, the premium (penalty) owed is one hour of extra pay for each work day this violation occurs.
  4. What are the basic requirements for meal and rest breaks under California Labor Law?
      1. Basic requirement for meal break: An employee working for more than 5 hours in a single shift is entitled to one meal break lasting at least 30 minutes. Any employee working for more than 10 hours in a single shift is entitled to take 2 meal breaks comprising of 30 minutes each. In such case, the employer must provide the second meal break no later than the end of the tenth hour.
      2. Basic requirement for rest break: Employers must provide their employees working in California with a 10 minutes paid rest break for every 4 hours (or major fraction) worked. These rest breaks must be uninterrupted and the employees must be relieved of all their duties.
  5. What are California break laws for exempt employees?
    1. Under California Law, exempt employees are entitled to a meal break but not rest breaks. There are 3 requirements under which an employee can be classified as exempt. They are:
      • Employees whose salary is at-least twice the state minimum wage for full-time employment
      • Employees whose primary job must be executive, administrative or performing professional tasks
      • Tasks done by employees must involve his/her independent judgement and use of discretion

      For more information on California Labor laws, it is best to consult an experienced employment attorney or click here to read more on California Overtime Laws

  6. Are meal breaks paid in California?
    1. California labor law states that the meal breaks are unpaid. However, in certain scenarios, if the employee is required to stay on the work premise or be on-call during the meal break, then he/she is entitled to get paid for the meal break.
  7. Can I work for more than 6 hours without a break in California?
    1. Yes, if you want to! Ideally, according to the California Labor Law, for a 6 hour shift in California, an employer must provide one rest break of 10 minutes and one meal break of 30 minutes. However, employees can choose not to take those breaks if the choice is made independently without any force or influence from the employer.
  8. Can I waive my lunch break in California?
    1. Yes, you can waive your lunch break in California, but under one condition, you should have worked for 6 hours or less. Under California Law, non exempt employees working in California can sign a waiver with their employer, stating that they will not take a meal break as long as their shift is less than 6 hours in a day.

      Such waivers are not permissible if the employee works for more than 6 hours uninterrupted in a single shift. Also in such cases, your employers should not be asking you to sign a lunch break waiver in California if you work for more than 6 hours in a single shift.

Topics Related to other California Laws

California Labor Laws

California Paid Sick Leave Law