California Employment Law FAQs: Rest Breaks and Meal Periods

Q:        Does my employer have to provide me with a meal period each day?

A:        Yes, in general, private employers in California must provide a 30-minute meal period to all hourly employees who work at least five hours that day.  If an hourly employee works more than ten hours in that day, the employer must provide a second 30-minute meal break.  Some exceptions apply for employees who are members of unions or who work in certain industries.  Also, public employers, such as cities and public agencies, are not subject to this requirement (although collective bargaining agreements may cover this).  (Lab. Code, § 512(a).)

Q:        What if I only work six hours a day?  Am I still entitled to a meal period?

A:        Yes.  However, in this situation an employee may choose to enter into an agreement with the employer to waive the meal period and be paid straight through.  If the employee and employer have not made such an agreement, the employer must provide a meal period.  (Lab. Code, § 512(a).)

Q:        My employer allows me to take lunch, but does not pay me for that time.  Is this lawful?

A:        Yes, in general an employer in California does not need to pay employees for meal periods, so long as the meal periods are at least 30 minutes long and are uninterrupted.  If an employer makes an employee perform any work during the meal period, such as answering phones or greeting customers, then the employer must pay for the entire meal period.

Q:        My employer did not let me take lunch.  Is there any penalty on an employer for not providing a meal period?

A:        An employee in California who is otherwise entitled to a meal period is entitled to receive payment from the employer in the amount of one hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay for each meal period that the employee does not receive.  There may be additional amounts owed to the employee if the employer deducted meal period time from the wages.  An employee can recover these amounts at the California Labor Commissioner or in superior court.  (Lab. Code, § 226.7(c).)

Q:        Does my employer have to let me take rest breaks?  If so, how often?

A:        Yes, in general, private employers in California must provide hourly employees rest breaks.  These employees are entitled to take one 10-minute break for every four hours worked.  Rest breaks are paid time.  In other words, an employer must pay its employees for the rest breaks, even though no work is being performed.  Employees who work three-and-one-half hours or less in a day are not entitled to rest periods. 

Q:        Sometimes at work I am too busy to take a break and still make my deadlines.  Is there anything I can do?

A:        In general, hourly employees in the private sector have the right to request a break or meal period and the employer must provide that uninterrupted time, even if the workload is busy.  Having too much work is not a lawful reason for an employer to deny its employees rest breaks or meal periods.

If you would like more information about the laws governing rest breaks and meal periods, or would like to see if you have a case for wage and hour violations, please contact the attorneys at Kosinski and Thiagaraj, LLP.