Employees who work more than 5 hours are entitled to a meal break. Photo by Nick Clement on Unsplash.

One of the most common questions posed to employers centers around the California law about breaks — whether it’s a meal break or short rest break in between shifts.

That question depends on several factors, most importantly the length of the employee’s shift, and whether or not they are a non-exempt hourly employee.

California employment law says that all hourly employees must be given a full 10-minute rest break for every 3 1/2 – 6 hours of work, and the break should fall at about the halfway mark. Employees who are denied this rest break are owed one hour of pay, however an employee may elect to skip the break if they choose. Employees working under 3 1/2 hours are not owed any rest periods, and those working between 6-10 hours get two 10-minute rest breaks. 

The California law on meal breaks varies also, depending on how many hours the hourly employee is working. Employees who work 5 hours or less are not entitled to a meal break. The meal break only kicks in for employees working 5 or more hours, and that break must start before the end of the fifth hour and it must be at least 30 minutes long. Employees working over 10 hours are entitled to a second 30-minute meal break that should start before the 10th hour of their shift. Employees are allowed to waive their meal breaks if they don’t work more than 6 hours a day.

Additionally, rest and meal breaks cannot be combined and must be taken separately.

Although this is a rough guide to California laws on meal breaks, it’s not a definitive answer. There are exceptions for exempt salaried workers, construction workers, health care workers, and other industries.

If in doubt, please call our employment law attorneys for a consultation at (951) 300-2690.

Photo by Nick Clement on Unsplash


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