California’s rest and meal break laws are designed to protect employees from fatigue and injury. By understanding these laws, employees can ensure that they are getting the breaks they need to stay safe and healthy. 

Federal law exists to provide basic protections to workers, called the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). However, California labor law is much more broad and provides more protections to non-exempt employees working in the state. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of California’s Rest and Meal Break Law, exploring its background, requirements, exceptions, and enforcing this law.

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California’s Rest and Meal Break Law was implemented to address concerns regarding employee welfare, productivity, and health. Historically, the law has seen several changes and amendments to refine its provisions and strengthen workers’ rights. The law seeks to strike a balance between employee breaks and employers’ operational needs.


Rest Breaks

Under the California Labor Code Section 226.7, employers are required to provide paid rest breaks to non-exempt employees. The law and wage orders stipulate that employees are entitled to a paid 10-minute rest break for every four hours worked, or “major fraction” thereof. These rest breaks are typically scheduled in the middle of each work period, if feasible.

Meal Breaks

In addition to rest breaks, the Rest and Meal Break Law mandates that employees be granted meal breaks. According to California Labor Code Section 512, employees who work for more than five hours per day must be provided with an uninterrupted meal break of at least 30 minutes. A company satisfies its legal duty to give its employees an off-duty meal period if the company:

  1. Relieves its employees of all duty.
  2. Relinquishes control over their activities.
  3. Permits the employees a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted, 30-minute break.
  4. Does not impede or discourage the employees from doing so.

A meal break can be unpaid only if all of the above conditions are met. Basically, employers don’t have to make sure employees take their breaks. There’s no duty to police meal breaks once they’ve been provided.

The employer and employee can waive the meal period if a work period of less than six hours finishes the day’s work.

Additionally, if the employee’s workday exceeds 10 hours, a second uninterrupted meal break of 30 minutes or more must be given. An employee can waive the second meal period only if all of the following conditions are met:

  1. The total hours worked on that workday are not more than 12;
  2. The company and the employee mutually consent; and
  3. The first meal break of the workday was not waived.

On-Duty Meal Period

According to California law, unless the employee is relieved of all duty during his or her thirty minute meal period, the meal period is considered an “on duty” meal period that is counted as hours worked which must be compensated at the employee’s regular rate of pay. 

An “on duty” meal period is only permitted when the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty and there is a written agreement between the employer and employee that states the meal break is “on-duty.” If both of these terms are not met, the employer can be subject to expensive penalties which are paid to the employee.

The written agreement must state that the employee may, in writing, revoke the agreement at any time. (See, IWC Orders 1 –15, Section 11, Order 16, Section 10). 

The test of whether the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty is an objective one. An employer and employee may not agree to an on-duty meal period unless, based on objective criteria, any employee would be prevented from being relieved of all duties based on the necessary job duties of the employee.

Some examples of jobs that fit this category are a sole worker in a coffee kiosk, a sole worker in an all-night convenience store, and a security guard stationed alone at a remote site.

If the employer requires the employee to remain at the work site or facility during the meal period, the meal period must be paid. This is true even where the employee is relieved of all work duties during the meal period. Bono Enterprises, In. v. Bradshaw (1995) 32 Cal.App.4th 968.

The unique aspect of on-duty meal breaks recognizes the necessity for flexibility in specific industries while ensuring that employees are still provided with an opportunity to take a meal break, albeit while on duty.


Exempt employees are generally not entitled to rest and meal breaks under California law. However, many employers try to classify employees exempt (or as independent contractors) to avoid providing the legal protections under California law.

What is an Exempt Employee?

An exempt employee is an employee who is not entitled to overtime pay. Exempt employees are typically salaried employees who perform certain types of duties, such as executive, administrative, or professional duties.

California Exempt Employee Laws

California law has its own set of exempt employee requirements. To be considered exempt under California law, an employee must meet the following criteria:

Salary: The employee must be paid a salary that is at least twice the state minimum wage for full-time employment.

Duties: The employee’s duties must meet the requirements of one of the following exemptions:

Executive exemption: The employee must be primarily responsible for the management of the enterprise or a customarily recognized department or subdivision.

Administrative exemption: The employee must be primarily engaged in the performance of office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer.

Professional exemption: The employee must be employed in a professional capacity and must meet certain education and experience requirements.

Independent judgment: The employee must be able to exercise independent judgment in the performance of their duties.

Exempt Employee Misclassification

Employers sometimes misclassify employees as exempt in order to avoid paying overtime pay and providing other protections to California employees. If you believe that you have been misclassified as an exempt employee, you should contact an attorney, like Gateway Pacific Law Group. We can help you determine whether you are entitled to overtime pay and can file a lawsuit against your employer if you are not.


California’s labor laws place a strong emphasis on protecting the rights and well-being of workers, including provisions for mandatory rest and meal periods. (1) Employers in the state have a legal obligation to provide their employees with adequate breaks, and failure to do so can result in penalties and financial consequences. The penalties for rest and meal break violations can include:

Premium Pay:

One penalty is the requirement to pay premium wages. The premium pay is calculated by adding one hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate for each workday that a rest break was not provided. If a meal break was also not provided, then an additional hour is added for this violation. This premium pay is in addition to the employee’s regular wages and serves as compensation for the missed break.

Civil Penalties:

The California Labor Code also allows for civil penalties to be imposed on employers who violate meal break laws. These penalties can vary depending on the number of violations, the impact on employees, and other factors. The Labor Commissioner or affected employees may seek civil penalties through administrative or legal processes.

File a Complaint with the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR)

You can file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner through the DIR website. The DIR investigates complaints of California Labor Code violations and can bring civil actions against employers who violate the law.

Individual and Class Action Lawsuits:

Employees who experience rest break violations may also have the option to file an individual or class action / representative lawsuit against their employer. Class action lawsuits, and representative actions called “Private Attorney General Act” (PAGA) claims, can result in significant financial liabilities for employers, as they can involve multiple employees seeking compensation for break violations over an extended period.

Moreover, PAGA claims carry additional penalties for labor code violations.


In an effort to ensure the well-being and fair treatment of employees, California labor laws play a crucial role in safeguarding their rights. One such law that stands out is California’s rest and meal break laws. Recognized for its unique provisions, these laws and regulations set a high standard for worker protection in the state.

Workers Compensation lawyer Roger Haag
About The Author

Roger Haag is an attorney who specializes in consumer, labor, and employment law, primarily representing employees. Mr. Haag has extensive experience in various legal proceedings, including arbitration hearings, administrative hearings, bench and jury trials, and has even presented arguments before the California Courts of Appeal. Additionally, Mr. Haag served in the United States Navy and also has professional experience with the Department of the Navy’s Civilian Acquisition Workforce and Chief of Naval Operations Executive Panel in Washington D.C.


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