California Meal Break & Rest Break Laws For 2021

Updated: Mar 4

Learn about your employee's rights in California


If you are a non-exempt California employee, you are entitled to a 30-minute continuous, duty-free meal break if you work more than 5 hours on a working day under the California meal break legislation (which is much more generous to workers than federal labor law).


If your employer is in violation of any California labor laws, you may have a legitimate case. Have your claim reviewed by an employment lawyer FREE of charge 24 hours a day. You'll get an answer within 15 minutes.


california meal break law chart

For every 4 hours you work (or "main part" of it), you are also entitled to 10 minutes of uninterrupted, duty-free rest breaks. If your employer does follow the provisions of break rule, they are supposed to pay you an extra hour of regular salary pay for each day on which a violation of meal break occurred, and another additional hour of regular pay for each day on which a violation of rest break occurred.


Requirements for California Rest Break

  • Your employer must grant you an uninterrupted rest break for at least ten consecutive minutes.

  • There must be paid rest breaks.

  • You must take one rest break if you work at least 3.5 hours a day.

  • You must take a second rest break if you work for 6 hours.

  • You must take a third rest break if you work for 10 hours.

  • To the degree practicable, rest breaks must be in the middle of and work time. If you are scheduled to work an 8-hour shift or more, both before and after your meal break, you can have a separate rest break.

  • During your rest breaks, your employer should not expect you to stay on work premises.

  • During any needed rest breaks, you shouldn't be expected to perform any work duties—[The Cal. Lab. 226.7]. However, if your employer is not promoting or pressuring you to, you are free to miss your rest breaks.


Chart of California Rest Break Rule

can i waive my lunch break in california

Rule Criteria for Meal Breaks in California


  • If you are scheduled to work more than 5 hours a day, you are entitled to a minimum meal break of 30 minutes, which must begin before the fifth hour of your shift is over. However, if you do not work more than 6 hours on a working day, you can negotiate with your employer to waive this mealtime. You should also agree to an on-duty meal break with your employer that counts as time worked and is paid.

  • You should have a second meal break of at least 30 minutes if you work more than 10 hours per day, which must begin before the end of the tenth hour of your shift. If you aren't scheduled to work more than 12 hours, and you have not waived your first meal break, you can agree with your employer to waive the second meal break.

  • You must be permitted to take your meal break from work premises and spend your break as you wish.

  • During any necessary meal break, you might not be expected to work—[The Cal. Lab. 512].

  • Your employer has an affirmative duty as of 2012 to ensure that breaks are made available to you, but the employee is left to actually take meal breaks. In other words, for "breaking" yourself, you are liable.

Notice that rest breaks and meal breaks are intended to be separate, not to be mixed. You can't get a single 1-hour break from your employer and say it counts as all of your meal breaks and rest breaks.


Bear in mind, for such sectors, such as the building, nursing, group home,

motion picture, manufacturing, and baking sectors, there are several exceptions to the above.


Chart for California Meal Break

california labor law lunch break paid or unpaid

May I sue my employer for breaching the rule on meal breaks and rest breaks in California?


Yes, you may, and you must immediately consider speaking to an employment attorney. You will be entitled to receive a penalty of 1-hour wages per day if your employer refuses you meal breaks and rest breaks; you will also be entitled to 1-hour wage per day that you did not take a meal break (for a maximum penalty of up to 2 hours wages per day).


Can I still sue my employer if I am an exempt salaried employee?


"It depends" is the right answer. Under California labor rules, there are several kinds of exemptions. You can fall under the supervisor exemption, otherwise referred to as the executive exemption, if you are a supervisor. But there are several conditions for that exemption that could have been imposed by your boss.


california labor laws

Some forms of excluded workers often do have the right to meal break and rest break privileges. Truck drivers are also deemed excluded, for example. They must, however, also obtain their meal breaks and rest breaks under California labor laws.


The "inside salespeople" who sell goods or services while physically stationed at the employer's office are another example. They are also entitled to meal breaks and rest breaks, although usually considered "exempt." Again, to see if the case qualifies for breaks, consult a California labor lawyer.


How do I find a good California labor lawyer?


As a rule of thumb, don't just rely on attorney advertising. California labor lawyers want to earn your business so they will attest to their own experience and performance by using biased and obviously partial marketing tactics to get your attention.


Take your time in finding the right California labor lawyer by checking their credentials, double checking their experience and making sure they have a history of ethical standards. You can also get a recommendation from an accredited lawyer referral organization.


If you need a lawyer referral, submit your case details only 24 hours a day by clicking here or by calling 661-310-7999.


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