California requires that employees provide meal and rest breaks. These requirements are in addition to any federal laws on meal and rest breaks. The core California requirements are as follows:

Meal Breaks

In California, employers must provide at least a 30-minute meal break for any employer who works five hours or more. The employer does not have to pay for the meal break – though it can if it wants to. During the meal break, the employee is not required to work, the employer must give up control over the employee, and the employer cannot discourage the worker from taking the meal break. The employer and employee can waive the meal break if the work period is six hours or less.

A second 30-minute meal break must be offered for any worker who works a 10-hour shift. The employee and employer can waive the second meal only:

  • If the total work hours are 12 or less
  • The employee did not waive the first meal break.

Meal breaks while the worker is on-duty can only be taken if:

  • The work type is such that the employer cannot relieve the employee of his/her work duties
  • The employer pays for the on-duty meal break
  • The employee and employer agree in writing to the on-duty meal break
  • The agreement Can be revoked can be revoked by the employee at any time. Some exceptions may apply.

Rest Breaks

California employers must provide 10-minute breaks for any employee who works three and half-hours or more. The rest break, should, if practical, be offered in the middle of the shift. The breaks should be offered at the following rate – one every four hours. 3.5 hours is considered sufficiently close to four hours for consideration of the first rest break. Employees must also pay the employee for the rest break. For example, an eight-hour work schedule requires at least two paid rest breaks in addition to the meal breaks.

Do Employers have to force employees to take their breaks?

A 2012 case, Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court., found that while employers have a duty to offer proper meal and rest breaks, the employer is not required to force the employee to actually take the breaks. Employers comply with the meal break law if they relieve the worker of his/her job duties for 30 minutes and let the employee leave the worksite during those 30 minutes. Employers can’t force workers to continue working but they also can’t force the employee to take the meal break either. Employers whose policies on meal breaks are unclear can be subject to penalties. The Brinker case affirmed the right of class action lawsuits to address meal and rest break issues.

Employer liability if meal and rest breaks are not properly provided

Employees do have the right to force their employ to comply with California’s laws on meal and rest breaks:

  • Meal breaks. Each day an employer fails to give the employee a required meal period, the employee must pay the employee an additional hour of pay at the worker’s regular rate. For example, if an employer fails to pay a five-day a week worker for 6 months, the employee will owe 130 (5 days x 26 weeks) times the weekly wage. If the wage is $20 an hour, the amount due is $2600. Employees have three years to file their claim for unpaid wages
  • Rest breaks. Employers must pay an hour of wages for each rest break it fails to give the employee.
  • Combined meal and rest breaks. In United Parcel Service vs. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, an appellate California court ruled that the meal break and rest break penalties are separate. This means, an employer who fails to give the proper meal break and the proper rest break has to pay two hours’ wages, not one for each day’s violations.