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California Lunch Break Law – Meal and Rest Break Laws

Emanuel Shirazi

Employee rights include the right to appropriate rest and meal breaks. The exact breaks you are entitled to as a nonexempt employee depend on your shift length. If your employer doesn’t provide you with uninterrupted rest and meal breaks, you can file a claim against them.

California Meal and Rest Breaks

Employees are entitled to their rest and meal breaks, and if an employer tries to discourage or prevent those breaks, that is illegal. An employer is required to provide the opportunity for an employee to take a rest or meal break, but they can’t force an employee to take a break. Employees who voluntarily give up their meal or rest break, or take them later than the law suggests, are allowed to do so.

  • Meal Breaks: An employee who works more than 5 hours is entitled to one unpaid meal break for at least 10 to 30 minutes. This meal break can be waived if the total shift is not longer than 6 hours. Employees who work more than 10 hours are entitled to a second unpaid meal break of the same length. This second meal break can be waived if the first meal break wasn’t waived and the total shift isn’t longer than 12 hours.
  • Rest Breaks: For every 4 hours an employee works, they are entitled to a paid 10-minute rest break. If an employee works 8 hours, they are entitled to two rest breaks. The break ideally is taken in the middle of those four hours.

Requirements of a Legally Valid Meal and Rest Break

An employer has only satisfied the requirements of a meal or rest break if the following are true:

  • The employer provides an employee with a reasonable opportunity to take a break.
  • The break is uninterrupted.
  • The employee is relieved of all work duties.
  • The employee can leave the workplace during the break.
  • The employer does not prevent or discourage the break.
  • The employer does not ask you to combine breaks.

Meal breaks are only unpaid if they meet these requirements. If you are not relieved of all duties on a meal break, it is paid. Only certain occupations allow employees to be on call, or maintain a portion of their job duties, during a rest or meal break. If an employee is not in one of these industries, there must be a written waiver and agreement between the employer and employee to take on-call meal breaks. This written waiver can be revoked by the employee.

Exempt Employees

Nonexempt employees who have a legal right to rest and meal breaks are generally employees who have hourly and weekly wages. For employees who are exempt from meal breaks, but not rest breaks, requirements include:

  • Those who earn a salary twice the state’s full-time minimum wage
  • Employees with job duties that require their discretion and independent judgment
  • Those with primary work duties that are administrative, executive, managerial, and professional

Meal and rest breaks also do not apply to certain classes of workers, such as independent contractors.

There are other industries and types of employees who are subject to different rest and meal breaks. Employees like agricultural workers and other employers whose job is outside have the legal right to breaks in the shade whenever necessary to prevent heat illness. Employees who are part of a union have different meal and rest breaks. Union-protected industries include:

  • Commercial drivers
  • Construction workers
  • Security officers
  • Public utility companies, including electric and gas
  • Motion pictures industry workers
  • Broadcasting industry employees
  • Healthcare industry workers
  • Wholesale banking workers

Each of these industries has different legal requirements for rest and meal breaks.

Common Violations of Employee Rest and Meal Break Rights

An employer may not explicitly prevent an employee from taking their mandated breaks, but they may still take actions that discourage an employee from their breaks. This includes:

  • They do not have enough staff. When there aren’t enough employees to cover the workplace’s needs, an employee may be unable to take the time for a break. If an employee is able to take a break, the lack of staff may require them to be on call. An interrupted break does not count as a legally valid break.
  • They do not pay a commissioned salesperson for their paid rest breaks. A salesperson’s commission does not cover their paid rest breaks.
  • They do not provide timely breaks. If an employee prevents or discourages an employee from taking their meal break before the end of their fifth hour of work, that is illegal.


Q: What Is the Law for Breaks and Lunches in California?

A: Nonexempt California employees must be given an unpaid 10- to 30-minute meal break for a shift that is longer than 5 hours. An employee is then entitled to a second meal break for shifts longer than 10 hours. Rest breaks are 10-minute paid breaks that a nonexempt employee is entitled to for every 4 hours of work.

Q: Can I Work 6 Hours Without a Lunch Break in California?

A: Yes, you can work a 6-hour shift without taking a lunch break. A nonexempt employee is entitled to a meal break if they work more than 5 hours, but this meal break can be waived as long as the shift isn’t longer than 6 hours. Meal break waivers must be done by mutual consent of employer and employee.

Q: How Many Breaks Do You Get for an 8-Hour Shift in California?

A: In an 8-hour shift, a nonexempt California employee is entitled to the following breaks:

  • One 10- to 30-minute unpaid and uninterrupted meal break. This can’t be waived, as the shift is longer than 6 hours, and it should be taken before the end of the fifth hour of work.
  • Two 10-minute uninterrupted and paid rest breaks.

Q: Who Is Exempt From Lunch Breaks in California?

A: Exempt employees are often those who:

  1. Earn a salary twice the minimum wage of a full-time employee
  2. Have job duties that require independent judgment and discretion
  3. Have work that is largely managerial, executive, or administrative

These are not the only employees who are exempt from meal breaks. Union-protected employees often have different rest and meal break requirements.

Contact Shirazi Law Firm, P.C.

Our team at Shirazi Law Firm, P.C., has worked in employment law for years. We have experience working on both sides of employment law cases, providing us with unique insight into how employers operate. We now solely protect employee rights and want to protect you. Contact our team today.

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