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Overview of California meal and rest break laws

On Behalf of | Dec 29, 2023 | Employment Law

Navigating California’s meal and rest break requirements is crucial for employers and employees to ensure compliance with state labor laws. These laws are designed to provide workers with necessary breaks during their workday. 

The required breaks are based on the number of hours worked. Workers and employers should learn the distinction between paid and unpaid break periods.

Rest breaks

In California, rest breaks are paid time. Employees are entitled to a 10-minute rest break for every four hours worked or a significant fraction of that time. Essentially, this means that employees who work more than two hours but under six are entitled to one rest break. 

If they work over six hours but less than 10, they’re entitled to two rest breaks, and so on. These breaks are meant to be uninterrupted and are counted as work time, meaning the employee is compensated for this duration.

Meal breaks

Meal breaks, on the other hand, are unpaid. Employees who work more than five hours daily are entitled to a 30-minute meal break. If an employee works over 10 hours in a day, they’re entitled to a second 30-minute meal break. 

Unlike rest breaks, the employee can waive meal breaks under certain conditions. The employee can waive the meal break if the workday is less than six hours. For those working longer than 10 hours, the second meal break can be waived if the first one isn’t waived and the total workday isn’t more than 12 hours. 

Waivers must be in writing and are typically included in the employee’s contract or a separate agreement. These waivers are voluntary and can’t be imposed by the employer. The employee must have the option to revoke the waiver with reasonable notice.

Ensuring proper breaks are provided is critical. Employees can take action to ensure they get the breaks they’re due. Working with someone familiar with these matters helps employees to find out what options they have.