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3 things to know about meal and rest breaks in California

California has some of the most employee-friendly protections for workers in this country. One area that provides particular requirements is break laws. These breaks are meant to help protect employees’ physical and mental state.

Breaks in California are classified as either a rest break or a meal break. A meal break is typically at least 30 minutes and is unpaid unless the employee has to perform duties or remain on the premises during their meal period. A rest break is a shorter break that’s paid. Employers can require employees to remain in a specific area for rest breaks.

1. Rest and meal breaks vary based on hours worked

Workers with a five-hour or longer shift are entitled to one meal period. A second meal period is necessary for workers who have more than 10 hours in a shift. A rest period of at least 10 minutes for every four hours or a “major fraction of” four hours. This should be given as close to the middle of that four-hour shift portion of the shift as possible.

2. Mutual written agreement can eliminate some breaks

Employees who work five to six hours in a shift can waive their right to a meal break. This must be done in writing. For those who work 10 to 12 hours, waiving one meal break is possible, but the other meal break must be taken. Employers can’t require this waiver. Employees can revoke the waiver in writing to resume meal breaks. 

3. Penalties for employers apply 

Employers who don’t provide the required meal breaks must pay the employee for one hour of their normal wages per day that the breaks are missing. This hour isn’t considered time worked to determine overtime pay. 

Legal action is possible when meal and rest breaks aren’t appropriately handled in California. Working with someone familiar with these matters can help you learn your options. 


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