It’s important for California employers to understand California labor laws governing meal periods and rest breaks. Otherwise, they may find themselves subject to significant amounts of litigation as well as financial risk from legal penalties.
Here is a summary of what California law requires when it comes to employee meal periods and rest breaks.
Meal Periods Under California Law
Hourly, nonexempt employees in California are entitled to at least one unpaid meal period of 30 minutes if they work 5 or more hours per day. The meal should be scheduled sometime during the first 5 hours of the workday. If the employee works 6 or fewer hours, then the employee can waive the meal period. Employers should get this consent in writing, and it should be signed by both the employer and employee to avoid future disputes.
Employees who work 10 or more hours in a day are entitled to a second unpaid meal period of 30 minutes. If an employee works fewer than 12 hours, the employee can waive the break (again, employers should get signed consent from the employee and be sure to sign it themselves).
There is an additional option for healthcare workers. If they work more than 8 hours, they can waive one of their meal breaks, as long as both the healthcare worker and the employer agree to it in writing.
Note that employers are not required to ensure that employees aren’t working during the break. They simply have to permit the break, and not interrupt it or discourage employees from taking the break.
Rest Breaks Under California Law
California law also mandates that hourly, nonexempt employees get a paid 10-minute rest period if they work 3.5 hours or more. A rest break is required for every 4 hours of work or a “major fraction” of that 4-hour period, which means more than 2 hours. So, if an employee works 6.5 hours, the employee is entitled to two rest periods. The employer should schedule the rest period in the middle of the shift.
Employees are entitled to leave the workplace during the break and cannot be on call. They must not work during the 10 minutes, so employers should not interrupt the break. If an interruption does occur, the employer must offer a new 10-minute break.
Penalties for Missing Meal Periods or Rest Breaks
An employer who fails to offer employees the required meal periods has violated the law and owes the employee an additional hour of pay for each day that the employer failed to provide the meal period. For example, if an employee who earns $15 an hour works 8 hours but isn’t given a meal period, the employee is entitled to an additional $15 for that day.
If an employee misses a rest break, the employee is entitled to 1 hour of pay at the regular rate. Employers must pay for this missed break in the employee’s next paycheck.
Note that if employees miss a meal period and a rest break in the same day, they are entitled to 2 hours of pay under California law.
Where to Get More Information About California Labor Laws
For additional information about employer obligations under California labor laws, including posting requirements for wage and hour and other labor laws, check out our site dedicated to California labor law posting requirements.