Meal and Rest Breaks

Jonathan H. Siegel

California employees are entitled to meal and rest periods during their workdays. The number of meal and rest breaks required by law varies depending on the number of hours worked, and other factors (described below). The only employees who are not entitled to meal and rest periods are those who perform certain types of job duties.

California law requires that when an employer does not provide an employee with a meal or rest period, the employer must pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation for each work day that a meal or rest period is not provided. If an employer does not do so, workers can recover the unpaid wages in a lawsuit. In this type of a case, workers can be eligible to recover one hour of wages for every day that a meal or rest period was not provided during the four years before the lawsuit was filed, and wages going forward from the date of filing of the case if the worker is still employed and the employer does not begin to provide meal or rest periods.

Employees with claims for the denial of meal or rest periods often file their claims as class action lawsuits. See, Class Actions. Employees who are not provided with meal or rest periods are often eligible to pursue other causes of action against their employers such as claims for unpaid overtime. See, Overtime Pay.

An employee is entitled to a 30 minute meal period whenever he or she works a shift of more than five hours. When a shift is not longer than six hours, the meal period may be waived but only by mutual consent of the employer and employee. When an employee works a ten hour shift, the employer is required to provide the employee with two 30 minute meal periods. If the employee does not work more than 12 hours, the second meal period may be waived but only by mutual consent of the employer and the employee, and only if the first meal period was not waived.

California workers are entitled to be relieved of all duty during 30 minute meal breaks. In other words, they generally should not be required to work during their meal periods. If an employee is required to work during a meal break, it is regarded as an “on duty” meal period and is supposed to be counted as paid time worked under California law. An employer can only require an employee to take an “on duty” meal break under very specific circumstances, when two conditions are met: 1) the nature of the work being performed by the employee must prevent the worker from being relieved of all duty and 2) the employer and the employee must agree in writing that the worker will take an on-the-job paid meal period. The written agreement must state that the employee may revoke the agreement at any time.

Employees are also entitled to take ten minute rest breaks during their workdays. Ten minute rest breaks are supposed to be permitted in the middle of each work day (if practical). Employees are entitled to one ten minute rest period for each four hours of work, based on the total number of hours worked daily.

It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against employees for asking for wages they believe they are owed for the denial of meal or rest periods, or for filing claims with the Labor Commissioner. See, Public Policy Claims.

Siegel LeWitter Malkani has obtained victories for numerous employees for the failure to provide meal or rest periods. See, Class Actions. If you believe Siegel LeWitter Malkani could assist you with a potential claim for the denial of meal or rest breaks, please contact the firm.

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