California Break Laws - Denied Rest Breaks for Employees

In addition to providing meal breaks for employees, California labor law mandates rest breaks, which give employees a short reprieve from duties.

According to 29 CFR 785.18, rest breaks must be between five and 20 minutes long, and a worker must be paid for this time even if he or she is relieved of all work-related duties.

According to San Diego labor law, employees must receive at least a 10-minute rest break after every four hours of work, in addition to the required meal break. If an employer does not give a worker the required rest break, the employer is violating San Diego employment law.

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The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) strongly suggests that “Additional break periods and meals should be provided when shifts are extended past normal work periods.” Normal work periods in California indicate an eight hour day.

An important function of rest breaks is to give employees an opportunity to use the bathroom. OSHA requires employers “to make toilet facilities available so that employees can use them when they need to do so. The employer may not impose unreasonable restrictions on employee use of the facilities.”


Extended breaks are required for disabled workers protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Consult a San Diego employment lawyer to determine how to legally provide adequate breaks for disabled employees, or to learn whether your rights are being abused as a disabled worker.

If you are an employee who has been denied meal and/or rest breaks, you may be entitled to significant compensation, since you can also receive damages, described in the “Break Violation Penalties” section. You are advised to hire an experienced San Diego labor lawyer who is familiar with San Diego labor law. Similarly, if you are an employer who is being taken to court for denial of breaks, you could face significant penalties, and will also require representation by an attorney with knowledge of San Diego employment law.

Compensation for Denied Rest Breaks: San Diego Labor Law

If a worker who has been denied meal and rest breaks hires a San Diego labor lawyer and wins a case against an employer, the employer may be required to provide compensation in the form of one hour of additional pay for each missed rest breaks. This is identical to the punishment for missed meal breaks. If an employee worked for eight hours without receiving a rest or meal break, she may be eligible for two more hours of pay. This can qualify the employee for overtime compensation, by changing her daily hours worked from eight to 10; in this situation, she must be paid time and a half for both of the additional hours.

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Additional Break Violation Penalties

Employers who violate San Diego labor law by denying employees meal breaks can be penalized by a trial court, the California labor commissioner, or both. A San Diego labor lawyer representing an employee who is charging his or her employer with violating break regulations will calculate what the employee is owed, including payment for missed breaks and any overtime incurred, as well as interest on these payments, and will attempt to recover this amount from the employer, through a trial court or the Labor Commissioner. Due to a recent decision by the California Supreme Court, employees who accuse employers of violating San Diego employment law by denying meal breaks may be able to collect wages owed for missed meal breaks for four years retroactively.

A San Diego employment lawyer representing an employer who is being charged with violating San Diego labor law will attempt to reduce the amount of back wages an employee can collect for missed breaks, and will attempt to decrease the period over which the employee can collect back wages to three years or less.

An employer found in violation of San Diego employment law due to break denial may also be responsible for waiting time penalties, attorney fees, back wages and interest on all penalties.

In 2007, the Supreme Court of California tried a case in which an employee was denied meal and rest breaks (Murchy v. Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc.). The employee earned all back wages lost through denied breaks, as well as interest and waiting time penalties. The employee was also compensated for all legal fees, and the employer found guilty of violating San Diego employment law was required to cover all of these costs. This case set a precedent that now requires abusive employers to pay more than just wages lost due to denied breaks, but also to cover interest, legal fees, and damages which can be negotiated by a skilled San Diego labor lawyer.

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