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Meal Periods & Rest Breaks

California law obligates employers to afford their nonexempt employees unpaid meal periods and paid rest breaks during the workday. (California Labor Code § 226.7, 512.)  Failure to do so can obligate the employer to pay the employee one hour of wages for each day that either a meal period violation or a rest break violation occurs.

Meal periods and rest breaks in California are governed by complex statutes, regulations and Industrial Welfare Commission (“IWC”) Wage Orders that are specific to industry and occupation.  The following is a summary of the most common meal period and rest break requirements applicable to nonexempt employees in California.  Exceptions and exemptions, however, do exist and a particular employee’s situation must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis by a qualified attorney to determine how California meal period and rest break law uniquely applies.

Meal Periods

California Labor Code § 512(a) requires covered employers to provide a nonexempt employee that works a work period of more than five hours per day with an unpaid meal period of not less than thirty minutes.  If the total work period per day of the employee is not more than six hours, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee.  This meal period must occur no later than the end of an employee’s fifth hour of work.

California Labor Code § 512(a) also requires covered employers to provide a nonexempt employee with a second unpaid meal period of not less than thirty minutes if the employee works more than ten hours per day.  This second meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and employee if the first meal period was not waived and the total hours worked is no more than twelve hours.  The second meal period must be provided no later than the end of the employee’s tenth hour of work

The California Supreme Court in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1004 held that an employer must: relieve the employee of all duty during the meal period; relinquish control over his or her activities; allow the employee a reasonable opportunity to take the uninterrupted meal period; and not impede or discourage the employee from doing so.

Rest Breaks

California law also requires covered employers to authorize and permit nonexempt employees with paid ten minute rest breaks.  The number of paid rest breaks an employee is entitled to receive will vary depending on the length of the workday.

Contact our office today to speak with a lawyer if you believe that your rights to meal periods or rest breaks have been violated.