meal-restCalifornia’s labor laws are some of the hardest in the country to follow. The complex set of rules governing when meal and rest breaks are to be provided to employees can be very confusing for employers to follow, and even harder for employees to tell when the rules are being broken.

If you’re wondering whether your employer is giving proper meal and rest breaks, here’s a summary:


  • Exempt or Non-Exempt. The starting point is determining whether you are considered an “exempt” employee or “non-exempt.” If you are “exempt,” certain labor laws, like meal and rest breaks, will not apply to you. Exempt employees generally include
  • California Laws on Meal Breaks. If you are a non-exempt employee, you are entitled to a 30 minute unpaid meal break if you work more than 5 hours in a workday.
    • Waiving if Working Only 6. If you are only working 6 hours that day, you can agree with your employer to waive the meal period.
    • Working Over 10. If you work over 10 hours a day, you are entitled to a second meal break of at least 30 minutes. You can waive this, howver, if you do not work more than 12 hours that day and you did not waive your first meal break.
    • On-Duty Meal. You can also agree with your employer to take an “on-duty” meal break (meaning, working while you eat) which counts as time worked and is a paid meal break. On-duty meal periods are generally used when the nature of the job prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty (for example, a lone security guard working a post during a graveyard shift).
    • Off-Site or On-Site. If you are required to remain at work during your meal period, then your meal period must be paid. Even if you are relieved of all duties during your meal period.
  • Rest Breaks. If you are a non-exempt employee, you are entitled to a paid 10 minute break if you work at least 3.5 hours that day, and the 10 minute break must be taken somewhere in the middle of that time period.
    • If you work 6-10 hours a day, you are entitled to 2 rest breaks.
    • If you work 10-14 hours a day, you are entitled to 3 rest breaks.
  • Follow Up Points
    • Duty-Free. Your rest breaks and meal breaks must be 100% “duty-free” meaning – they shouldn’t be interrupted by your work, boss, customers, etc., during that time period. If your meal and rest breaks are regularly interrupted because your are told you are needed, then it isn’t a proper meal or rest break.
    • Skipping is OK. Skipping a meal or rest break on your own is your choice.

The above is a very boiled-down summary of meal/rest laws in California, and there are many exceptions for certain industries, such as healthcare, group homes, motion pictures, manufacturing, baking, child labor, security officers, construction employees, athletes, and others.

What Happens if Proper Meal/Rest Breaks Aren’t Given?
If your employer is not properly giving non-exempt employees the necessary meal/rest breaks, or meal/rest breaks that are duty-free, then under California law, the employee is entitled to an extra hour of pay for the missed meal/rest break. There may also be penalties imposed on the employer for failing to properly pay its employees for all wages owed.

AXIS Legal Counsel  represents clients with violations of labor laws, including California’s wage and hour laws providing employees with mandatory rest breaks, meal periods, minimum wages, and fair pay.  For information on retaining AXIS Legal Counsel to represent you with respect to any wage, hour, or labor law matter, contact or call (213) 403-0130 for a confidential consultation, or visit our Employee Rights’ Practice Area or Individual Rights Portal for more information.

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