Laws Regarding Meal & Rest Breaks in California


California law goes beyond the federal wage and hour laws found in the Fair Labor Standards Act by requiring employers to provide meal breaks and rest periods for employees who have worked a certain amount of time.  The attorneys at Kingsley & Kingsley represent workers statewide who have been denied the meal breaks and rest periods to which they are entitled.

Meal Breaks

Anytime an employee works more than five hours, he or she is entitled to a 30-minute unpaid meal break. During this time, the employee is to be relieved of all duties and is free to leave the premises.  For a violation of this law, the employee is entitled to be paid for the missed break plus a premium of one hour of pay at the regular rate.  Every day the employee misses a meal break counts as a separate violation of the law.

The meal break should be taken within the first five hours of work, and it is the employer's responsibility to see to it that the meal break is taken on time.  An employee may waive the right to a meal break if the worker so chooses, but only if the shift does not last longer than six hours. Moreover, a second meal period is also required if the shift exceeds ten hours.

Overtime claims can sometimes be implicated in meal break cases.  Where the employee is told to clock out for a meal break but is required to keep working, the employee may end up working more than 40 hours a week. In such a case, the worker would be entitled to recover unpaid overtime wages at time and a half as well as the premium penalty for the missed meal break.

Rest Periods

For every four hours on the clock, an employee is entitled to a ten minute paid break.  As much as practicable, the break should be given in the middle of the four hour period (after two hours of work).  So, an employee who works an eight-hour shift is entitled to two paid ten-minute rest breaks and one thirty-minute unpaid meal period.  As with meal breaks, the penalty for not giving a rest period is that the employee is owed one hour of pay for every day a break is denied.

Rest period violations can be difficult to prove, because employers are only required to make the break available – employees are not required by law to take them.  Whether an employer adequately communicated that a break was freely available, and whether an employee knowingly and voluntarily waived a break time, can be difficult to establish in court.

The attorneys at Kingsley & Kingsley have significant experience in labor law and other civil litigation, including class actions based on employer violations of the law across the workforce.  If you believe that you have been unfairly denied a meal break or rest period, contact Kingsley & Kingsley to have an attorney evaluate your claim.

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