California Labor Law: Employee Rest Breaks and Meal Breaks
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.