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Meal Periods and Rest Breaks

Federal law guarantees workers a minimum wage, plus overtime for hours worked over 40 in a week, and California laws meet and exceed those mandates. Contrary to popular belief, though, there is no federal requirement for meal or rest breaks; whether to require those or not is left up to each individual state to decide. Currently, only 21 states in the country mandate meal periods for adult workers in the private sector, and only seven states also have requirements for rest periods. In California, workers get both. Learn about meal breaks and rest periods in California below, including penalties if the rules are violated.

If you are a California employer with questions regarding meal and rest breaks in the workplace, or if you are an employee who has been denied the breaks you were owed, contact Rounds & Sutter LLP. From our offices in Ventura and Westlake Village, we advise and represent employers and employees in Oxnard, Camarillo, and surrounding communities in Southern California.

California Rest Break Requirements

Employees are entitled to a paid rest break for every four hours of work. An employee on an eight-hour shift, therefore, would be entitled to two rest breaks during their shift. Each break should be at least ten minutes long. Ideally, the break should be taken close to the two-hour mark every four hours.

Meal Period Laws in California

Workers in California are entitled to an unpaid meal break every five hours. The meal period must be at least 30 minutes long and can be taken at any time during the five-hour period, at the employer’s discretion.

Employees can lawfully agree to give up their meal break if they so choose so long as they won’t be working more than six hours. Likewise, workers can waive their second meal period if their shift won’t last more than 12 hours.

What Is an On-Duty Break?

By way of example, an employee on the clock from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm is entitled to one rest break and one meal period. In contrast, an employee working from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm should get two rest breaks and one meal period. Generally speaking, an employer cannot require an employee to be on-call during either a rest break or a meal period. However, an employee can voluntarily choose to be on-call. In such a situation, if an on-call employee misses their break, they should be compensated for their time, but the employer won’t incur any liability because the employee missed their break.

California law also allows an employee to agree in writing to stay on duty during meal periods. In very few limited situations, an employee might not be relieved of all their duties during a meal period or rest break due to the nature of their employment, such as being the only security guard on duty at a facility.

Penalties for Missed Rest Breaks and Meal Periods

If an employee is denied a rest break or meal period they were otherwise entitled to, the employer owes them one hour of wages for every day a meal or rest break is denied.

Employees who are eligible for meal and rest breaks are the same workers covered by minimum wage and maximum hour (overtime) requirements. In other words, exempt white-collar workers and other exempt employees, along with independent contractors, are not entitled to rest breaks or meal periods under the law. Additionally, in unionized settings, a collective bargaining agreement can lawfully set meal and rest break schedules differently from what California law would otherwise require.

Help With Meal and Rest Breaks and Other Wage & Hour Issues in Oxnard and Ventura

If you are an employer or employee dealing with missed rest breaks and meal periods or other wage and hour issues in Ventura, Oxnard, Camarillo, or surrounding communities, call Rounds & Sutter at 805-650-7100 for practical advice and effective representation from a skilled and experienced California employment law attorney.