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What are the meal and rest break requirements for California employees?

Unless a collective bargaining agreement or a few limited exceptions apply, most employees who work in California for more than five hours per day must be provided with at least a 30-minute meal period. If the employee works no more than six hours, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and the employee. In addition, any time an employee works more than 10 hours in one day, he or she must receive a second meal period of at least 30 minutes. However, if an employee works a total of no more than 12 hours in one day, then the second meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and the employee.

Unless an employee is relieved of all duty during a 30-minute meal period, the meal period shall be considered an "on-duty" meal period and counted as time worked. An "on-duty" meal period shall be permitted only when the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty and when an on-the-job paid meal period is agreed to in writing by all parties. The written agreement must state that the employee may, in writing, revoke the agreement at any time.

If the employer requires the employee to remain at the work site or facility during the meal period, the meal period must be paid. This is true even when the employee is relieved of all work duties during the meal period. In April 2019, a federal district court found that an employer may be liable for premium pay penalties when there are policies or practices in place, such as security checkpoints at facility exits, that discourage employees from leaving the premises, even if the employees actually receive a full 30-minute uninterrupted meal period.

In all places of employment where employees are required to eat on the premises, a suitable place for that purpose must be designated. No definition for "suitable place" is provided in the California regulations.

If a meal period occurs on a shift beginning or ending between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., facilities must be available for securing hot food and drink or for heating food or drink, and an employer must provide a suitable sheltered place in which employees can consume such food or drink (applies to all IWC orders except orders 12, 14, 15 and 16).

The Brinker case decision issued by the California Supreme Court on April 12, 2012, clarified some common questions employers face when providing meal and rest periods to their employees. For example, the court explained when meal periods should be permitted to commence throughout the workday. Specifically, the first meal period must be permitted to commence no later than after five hours of work or the start of the sixth hour of work (five hours on the clock). The second meal period must be permitted to commence no later than after 10 hours of work or the start of the 11th hour of work (10 hours on the clock).

Generally, employers should review their policies to ensure that:

  • Employees are aware of their meal and rest break entitlements.
  • Employees record the time they begin and end each meal break.
  • Employees who are not able to take a meal or rest break because of work requirements report this on their timesheets and are paid as required.

There are some limited exceptions for certain occupations and industries outlined in Labor Code 512.

Source: California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR)

Rest Periods

In California, the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) wage orders require that employers authorize and permit nonexempt employees to take a rest period that must, insofar as practicable, be taken in the middle of each work period.

The rest period is based on the total hours worked daily and must be at the minimum rate of a net 10 consecutive minutes for each four-hour work period or major fraction thereof. The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) considers anything more than two hours to be a "major fraction" of four. A rest period is not required for employees whose total daily work time is less than three and one-half hours.

The rest period is defined as a net 10 minutes, which means that the rest period begins when the employee reaches a designated rest area. Employers are required to provide suitable resting facilities for employees during working hours in an area separate from the toilet rooms or the work area.

The rest period is counted as time worked, and therefore, the employer must pay for such periods.

Exceptions to rest periods exist under the wage orders for certain employees and occupations.

Source: California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR)


When an employer does not provide an employee with a required meal or rest period, it must pay the employee one hour of pay at the employee's regular rate of compensation for each workday that the employee does not receive his or her meal or rest period. In United Parcel Service v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, a California Court of Appeal ruled that because meal and rest periods are separate requirements, employers that fail to provide both meal and rest periods in a single day must pay the employee an additional two hours of pay, not one.

Rest Periods for Lactation

Pursuant to Labor Code Section 1030, every employer, including the state and any political subdivision, must provide a reasonable amount of break time to accommodate an employee desiring to express breast milk for the employee's infant child. See Under California law, what must an employer do to accommodate lactating mothers in the workplace?


California meal and rest period requirements are complex. For more detailed information or a legal interpretation for your specific employment situation, it is best to seek legal advice from your employment attorney.


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