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Rest and Meal Breaks

California has an extensive set of protections in place to protect employees. Minimum wage, workplace conditions, meal periods, and rest periods are all employment law rights legally granted to non-governmental, non-exempt employee under California’s Labor Code as well as the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Meal period and rest period violations are some of the most commonly seen offenses, so it’s important for non-exempt employees in California to know what rights have been granted to them by the state and federal government.

Exempt vs. Non-Exempt

Employers must provide all non-exempt employees with designated periods for both meal and rest breaks. Employees, unlike independent contractors and non-exempt employees:

  • Are not free from control or direction of their employer in connection with performance of their work
  • Do not perform work outside their employer’s usual business
  • Do not engage in an independently established trade, business, or occupation of the same nature as the work they do for their employer

Employees are entitled to important benefits such as Social Security, disability benefits, Unemployment Insurance, workers’ compensation, meal and rest breaks, and minimum wage.

Legal Obligations Meal Period

Under the current law, employer must provide a reasonable opportunity for a non-exempt employee to take 30 minutes for a meal period off the clock, uninterrupted, and free of work duties whenever they work over 5 hours in a shift. The employer must also provide a second meal period satisfying the same requirements whenever the employee works over 10 hours during the same shift. Though an employer must not require an employee to take their legally available meal period, they cannot take any action which discourages the employee from taking the meal period. This includes creating “pressing business” issues or hindering taking a break in other ways.


An employee and their employer have two exceptions where they may legally agree to waive requirements regarding meal periods – and in both cases the waiver must be truly voluntary on the employee’s part to be effective. If the employee’s shift ends after 5 hours but before the sixth, the period may be waived. If the first meal period on a shift of 10 or more hours was provided, the second period may be waived.

Rest Period

California non-government employers must give a reasonable opportunity for all their non-exempt employees to have a 10-minute rest period every 4 hours – or substantial portion of 4 hours during work. The break must be on the clock, free of work duties, and uninterrupted. As with meal periods, the employer can’t force employees to take these rest periods, but must not take any action to hinder their ability to take the break; this includes failing to relieve the employee or otherwise impeding their ability to take a break.

Employer Requirements

Employers are not only required to give non-exempt employees meal and rest breaks, or at least the reasonable opportunity to do so; other legal requirements are in place to ensure the employee is not compromised in some way for either exercising their rights or raising concerns when their rights are violated. In California, it is a violation of wage and hour laws to require any non-exempt employee to work through their rest or meal break and not pay them for working the time they spent working instead of taking their breaks. It is also a violation of California law for employers to retaliate against an employee who inquires about unpaid wages for working through rest and meal breaks, or for filing a complaint about wage and hour violations their employer committed with any agency.

How to Handle Rest and Meal Break Violations as an Employee

If you know or believe your employer has been denying you the right to your meal or rest periods, it is important that you keep records of these violations. It’s advisable for an employee to keep a personal record of the hours they have worked, as well as dates a period was denied and any circumstances the brought about the denial. Proving violations can be difficult, so it’s advisable to consult with a skilled California employment attorney on how best to proceed.

Compensation for Violations

If an employer fails to provide their employee the reasonable opportunity to take a meal period, the employee may be entitled to a wage penalty for an hour’s worth of pay per shift where denial occurred. The same is true when an employer is found to have denied a reasonable opportunity to take at least one legally required rest break during a shift.

Speak to an Attorney Today

If you have been denied a meal or rest period at work, you know how frustrating and detrimental it can be to your health and well-being. To help understand what you should expect and learn how you can address problems with your employer and coworkers, contact the skilled California employment attorneys at Walton Law, APC. Contact us 24/7 by calling (866) 338-7079 or using our Contact Us page to schedule your risk free, confidential case review today. The initial consultation is always free, and you don’t pay until we win your case. Let our attorneys review your situation, answer your questions, and help make sure your employer is observing your rights at work.

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