California Labor Law: Employee Rest Breaks and Meal Breaks

meal and rest breaks in california

California labor law regulates an employer’s requirement to provide meal breaks and rest breaks for employees.

Paid Rest Breaks

Employees in California are entitled to a paid rest break of at least 10 minutes for every 4 hours of work performed. However, if an employee works less than 3 ½ hours in a workday, the employer is not required to provide a rest break. An employee may also choose to work through a rest break they are entitled to.

Employer’s Obligation and Penalties

It is unlawful for an employer to fail to provide non-exempt employees with rest breaks or to attempt to persuade an employee to waive a rest break. If an employer fails to provide the required rest breaks, the employee is entitled to 1 additional hour of pay, at the regular rate of pay, for each day a break was denied.

Unpaid Meal Breaks

Under California meal break law, any non-exempt employee who works for more than 5 hours in a workday is entitled to a 30-minute unpaid meal break. An employer cannot require an employee to remain on duty during a meal break and the break must be uninterrupted. An employee who will not work over 6 hours in a workday may waive their meal break if they have come to an agreement with their boss. If an employer denies a legally required meal break, an employee is entitled to 1 hour of regular rate pay for every day a meal break was not provided.

Consequences for Denied Meal Breaks in California

It is important to remember that employees are entitled to 1 hour of pay for denied rest breaks and 1 hour of pay for denied lunch breaks. If an employee worked a total of 6 hours in a workday and an employer denied any rest breaks or lunch breaks, the employee would be entitled to up to 2 hours of regular time pay for each day the breaks were denied. So, for example, if your employer did not allow you to take any meal breaks or rest breaks you were entitled to during a year of employment (roughly 260 workdays), they would then owe you damages equivalent to 520 hours’ worth of pay at your regular rate.

Understanding Rest and Meal Breaks – A Quick Reference Chart


If you believe your employer has failed to provide adequate breaks during your shift, contact us. At TONG LAW, our unpaid wages lawyers are experienced at enforcing employee rights.

Author Bio

Vincent Tong

Vincent Tong is the CEO and Managing Partner of TONG LAW, a business and employment law firm located in Oakland, CA. Vincent is a fierce advocate for employees facing discrimination and wrongful termination. With several successful jury trial victories and favorable settlements, he has earned a strong reputation for delivering exceptional results for his clients.

In addition, Vincent provides invaluable counsel to businesses, guiding them on critical matters such as formation and governance, regulatory compliance, and protection of intellectual property assets. His depth of experience allows him to anticipate risks, devise strategies to avoid legal pitfalls, and empower clients to pursue their goals confidently.

Vincent currently serves as the 2021 President of the Board of Directors for the Alameda County Bar Association and sits on the Executive Board for the California Employment Lawyers Association. Recognized for outstanding skills and client dedication, he has consecutively earned the Super Lawyers’ Rising Star honor since 2015, reserved for the top 2.5% of attorneys. He also received the Distinguished Service Award for New Attorney from the Alameda County Bar Association in 2016. He is licensed to practice before all California state courts and the United States District Court for the Northern and Central Districts of California.

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