California law mandates that employers provide employees with a meal break of not less than 30 minutes for employees who have a work period of over 5 hours per day. The first meal break must be provided prior to the end of the employee’s fifth hour of employment. On workdays in which the employee works more than ten hours, the employer is responsible for providing a second meal break as well. The second meal break must be provided prior to the end of the employee’s 10th hour of work.
In order to satisfy an employer’s meal break responsibilities, the employer must: 1) relieve its employees of all duties, 2) relinquish control over their activities, 3) permit them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and 4) not impede or discourage the employee from taking a meal break.
Employees can waive a meal break if the work day is less than six hours and employer and employee mutually agree to waive the meal break. An employee may also waive the second meal break, when applicable, as long as: the workday does not exceed 12 hours, the employee has not waived the initial meal break, and the employer and employee mutually consent to the second meal break being waived.
California law prescribes that every employer shall authorize and permit all employees to take rest periods, which insofar as practicable shall be in the middle of each work period. This means that employers are responsible to provide one rest break every four hours or major fraction thereof. The rest break should be in the middle of the four-hour period; however, employers are permitted to deviate from this preferred course where practical considerations render it infeasible.
Similar to California’s rule regarding meal breaks, on-call rest breaks are not permitted.
Penalties for Violations
California Labor Code § 226.7 requires that employers who require any employee to work during any meal or rest break or who fail to provide employees with a meal or rest break in accordance with an applicable order of the Industrial Welfare Commission must pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation for each work day that the meal or rest period is not provided.
Employees can seek unpaid penalties going back three years under California Labor Code § 226.7. However, employees often seek under an additional year’s worth of unpaid wages if the facts of the case support other causes of action.