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Meal and Rest Breaks in California

June 9, 2023 Legal Team

As an employee in California, it is crucial to understand your rights regarding meal and rest breaks. California’s labor laws are designed to protect workers and ensure they receive adequate time to rest and refuel during their workday.

It is advisable for employees who believe their rights have been violated to consult an Orange County wage & hour attorney to understand their options and pursue the appropriate course of action.

Meal Breaks in California

Under California labor laws, non-exempt employees are entitled to a meal break during work shifts. Key points to remember about meal breaks in California include the following:


The general rule is that if you work more than five hours in a day, you are entitled to a 30-minute uninterrupted meal break. If your shift exceeds ten hours, you are entitled to a second 30-minute meal break.

Uninterrupted Breaks

During meal breaks, employees should be relieved of all work-related duties and free to use their break time as they choose. However, if the nature of your work requires you to remain on duty, you may have an “on-duty” meal break, where you are still paid for the time worked.

Waiver of Meal Breaks

In certain circumstances, an employee can voluntarily waive their right to a meal break if the shift is no longer than six hours. However, it is important to note that employers cannot coerce or pressure employees into waiving their meal breaks.

Rest Breaks in California

In addition to meal breaks, California labor laws mandate rest breaks for non-exempt employees. Here are the key points to remember about rest breaks:


Rest breaks should be provided in the middle of each four-hour work period or a substantial fraction thereof. It is generally recommended that rest breaks be provided approximately every two hours.

Paid Breaks

Rest breaks are considered paid breaks, meaning employees should receive their regular rate of pay during these short intervals.

Waiver of Rest Breaks

As with meal breaks, employees can waive their right to a rest break only if their shift does not exceed six hours. However, employers should not coerce or pressure employees into waiving their rest breaks.

Penalties for Violating Meal and Rest Break Laws

Employers in California who violate meal and rest break laws may face penalties and consequences, which can include:

Premium Pay

When an employer fails to provide a meal or rest break as required, they typically must pay the employee one additional hour of pay at their regular rate for each workday that a break is not provided. This is known as premium pay or premium wages.

Class Action Lawsuits

In some cases, when numerous employees are affected by the same violations, they may join together to file a class action lawsuit against the employer. This can result in significant financial liability for the employer, including payment of owed wages, penalties, and potentially additional damages.

Liquidated Damages

Employers who fail to provide meal and rest breaks may also be liable for liquidated damages, which are additional financial penalties equal to the amount of premium pay owed. These damages are meant to compensate employees for the economic losses resulting from the violations.

Labor Commissioner’s Office Enforcement

The California Labor Commissioner’s Office (DLSE) is responsible for enforcing labor laws in the state. If an employee files a complaint with the DLSE, the office may investigate the allegations and take appropriate action against the employer, including imposing fines and requiring compliance.

Civil Lawsuits

In addition to administrative penalties, employees may also choose to file individual lawsuits against their employers to seek remedies for unpaid wages, damages, and other legal claims resulting from the violations.

Penalties and consequences can vary depending on the specific circumstances, the severity and frequency of the violations, and other factors.