Meal and Rest Breaks for California Employees Explained

Termechi Employment Law

Meal and Rest Breaks for California Employees Explained

California employers often deprive employees of their meal and rest breaks, which are required by state law.  This article explains California employees’ rights to meal and rest breaks, and what they can do when their employer unlawfully denies them these rights.

Am I allowed to take a meal break?

Under California labor law, employees who work 5 or more hours per day are allowed a 30-minute meal break. An employee can waive this meal break if he or she works less than 6 hours per day.  However, the waiver must be voluntarily obtained and in writing.

Employees who work 10 or more hours per day must be given a second 30-minute meal break, totaling two 30-minute meal breaks. An employee can waive this second meal break if his or her workday is 12 hours or less and if he or she did not waive the first meal break. This waiver must also be voluntarily obtained and in writing.

Am I allowed to take a rest break?

For every 4 hours worked, an employee is entitled to 10 or more minutes of a rest break. This rest break must be taken in the middle of the employee’s work period and considered paid time. Employees who work 3 and a half hours or less per day are not lawfully entitled to a rest break.

Are all employees allowed meal and rest breaks?

Not all employees are allowed meal and rest breaks. In California, meal and rest break laws only apply to non-exempt employees.

White-collar employees who meet all of the following requirements may be exempt from California meal and rest break laws:

  • Spend half or more of their workday doing intellectual, managerial or administrative work
  • Perform independently without consulting a manager
  • Earn a monthly salary equal to twice or more of the California minimum wage for full-time employment

Independent contractors are also exempt from California meal and rest break laws. Additionally, certain unionized employees are exempt from California meal and rest break laws.

Moreover, employees in the following occupations may be considered exempt from California meal and rest break laws:

  • construction workers
  • commercial drivers
  • security officers
  • electrical or gas company repairmen
  • workers in the motion picture industry

Can my employer force me to work during meal or rest breaks?

Employees may NOT be required to remain “on call” during meal or rest breaks. California employees are entitled to meal breaks completely separate from any work-related activity.

If your employer asks you to eat while working, or remain on call during your rest break, he or she is denying you of your lawfully required meal or rest break. However, your employer is not responsible if you voluntarily choose to work during your meal or rest breaks.

“On duty” meal periods (when employees must work while eating) are only permitted if:

  • the nature of the occupation disables the employee from leaving his or her shift (for example, a security guard is the only person on duty)
  • the employee agrees in writing to waive his or her meal periods. The employee can revoke this agreement at any time

Am I allowed to sue my employer for California meal and break law violations?

California employees are allowed to sue their employers for denying them their entitled meal and rest breaks under California Labor Law. According to California law, employers who deny their employee of meal breaks owe their employee one hour’s pay for each break he or she was not allowed to take. For example, if your employer denied you 100 meal and rest breaks and you earn $25 per hour, your employer owes you $2,500.


Contact our office in Los Angeles at (310) 974-3324 or send us an email to speak with one of our experienced Los Angeles meal and rest break lawyers.  You have rights as a worker, and we will uphold them. There is no risk to meet with us. We get paid only if we win your claim.


Call (310) 974-3324 or fill out this form and someone from our team will get back to you within 24 hours