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Rand L. Stephens & Richard Koss

Meal and Rest Breaks in CA

Builders on Coffee Break

California law requires employers to provide certain wages and benefits to employees. Employers, for example, must provide overtime to employees who work above a certain threshold of hours in the day, hours in a workweek, or days in a row. California law also requires employers to give non-exempt workers, who are or should be paid by the hour, sufficient rest and meal breaks throughout the workday. Employers who violate the meal and rest break rules can be subject to penalties, including back pay owed to workers and fines. To learn about the California rules regarding meal and rest breaks in the workplace, read on. If you have wage and hour or other labor law concerns in the Bay Area, reach out to a knowledgeable San Francisco labor law attorney for assistance.

California Meal and Rest Break Rules

California law requires employers to provide employees with meal and rest breaks throughout the workday. The rule of thumb for California workplaces is that employers must provide employees with a paid rest break for every four (4) hours of work, as well as an unpaid meal break every five (5) hours. The rest breaks must be at least 10 minutes each, and the meal breaks must be at least 30 minutes. Employees can agree to waive their right to the meal break if they will not work more than six (6) hours in the day, and they can waive their second meal break if they will not work more than twelve (12) hours in the day.

If a worker is on the clock from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, for example, then they would be entitled to a 30-minute lunch break as well as two separate 10-minute rest breaks. If they instead work a standard eight-hour day, they would be entitled to a 30-minute meal and a single 10-minute break Rest breaks should be taken close to the middle of each four-(4) hour work period. Meal breaks in a regular eight-hour day are to be taken anytime in the first five (5) hours of the workday.

Employers cannot require employees to be “on-call” during their meal or rest break. However, employees can voluntarily choose to remain on-call during their breaks; if they choose to do so, the employer is not liable for missed breaks. Under certain circumstances, workers may be subject to “on-duty” work breaks. Employees can agree in writing to stay on duty during meal times. Additionally, the nature of certain jobs may prevent employees from being relieved of all duties during a break (for example, a lone security guard might still need to remain vigilant during their lunch).

Penalties for Violating Meal and Rest Break Rules

California labor law sets specific penalties for employers who violate the rest and meal break rules. According to the law, employers must pay employees one hour’s wages for every day they are denied rest or meal breaks. If an employer prevents an employee from taking meal breaks every day for 200 days, for example, the employee could seek damages equal to 200 hours’ worth of pay at their standard hourly rate.

Exceptions and Exemptions

Not all employees are entitled to meal and rest breaks. Similar to California’s overtime laws, certain categories of employees are exempt from meal and rest break requirements. White-collar employees, for example (those who perform primarily intellectual or managerial tasks and earn at least twice the minimum wage monthly), are exempt from the meal and rest break requirements. The meal and rest break requirements also do not apply to independent contractors or unionized employees in certain industries whose meal and rest break schedules are set by union agreements.

If you are a San Francisco employee or employer in need of advice or representation concerning wage & hour, overtime, whistleblower protections, workplace discrimination, or other California labor law issues, contact the Richard Koss Bay Area employment law attorneys at 650-722-7046 on the San Francisco Peninsula, or 925-757-1700 in the East Bay.

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