Published by Chowdhary Law, APC – 5 PARK PLAZA, SUITE 200, IRVINE CA – 949.910.6810

Meal & Rest Break Law in California – Are You Being Forced to Work Through Lunch?

unhappy worker


  • Non-exempt employees in California are entitled to an unpaid, uninterrupted (off-duty), meal break of not less than 30 minutes for every five (5) hour period of time worked.
  • This means that your employer is required to provide you with a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted, 30 minute meal break, and should not impede or discourage you from doing so.
  • An employer must relieve its employees of all duty (no answering work-related phone calls/emails, attending to patrons/customers.)
  • Moreover, employers must relinquish control over your activities during the meal break (i.e. provide co-worker coverage, so you can leave the premises.)
  • We advise that employees immediately report to their supervisor, preferably in writing, if they are unable to take a required meal period for any reason, or if a meal period is interrupted for any work-related reason.
  • Your 30 minute meal break should be provided before the start of your fifth hour of work.  For example, an employee who starts work at 8:00 a.m. must start his or her meal break no later than 1:00 p.m.
  • You are entitled to a second 30 minute meal break if you work more than ten (10) hours.  (Your second meal break must begin before the tenth (10th) hour mark of the shift.)
  • For shifts of five (5) hours or less, non-exempt employees are not entitled to a meal break.
  • Meal periods may not be combined with rest breaks, nor may they be used at the end of a workday to allow you to leave early.
  • If you work in healthcare, manufacturing, transport, security, or the motion picture industry, then exceptions to the above rules may apply.


  • All non-exempt employees are entitled to one 10-minute paid rest break per four (4) hours worked, or major fraction thereof—the only exception being that an employee who works a total of three-and-a-half (3½) hours or less during the day is not entitled to any rest break.  Therefore, an employee who works more than three-and-a-half (3½) hours and up to six (6) hours is entitled to one (1) rest break.
  • If you work more than six hours and up to ten hours a day, you are entitled to two (2) rest breaks.
  • Your rest breaks must be taken as close to middle of the four (4) hour period as possible.
  • Rest breaks should not be taken within one (1) hour of a meal period.
  • Rest breaks should not be combined with the meal period, and should be taken separately.
  • In contrast to your meal break, your employer can require you to stay on the premises during your 10 minute rest break.
  • Again, we advise that employees immediately report to their supervisor, preferably in writing, if they are unable to take their required rest break.

If your employer fails to provide a duty-free meal break or rest break, you are entitled to one extra hour of pay at your regular hourly rate.

The Court in United Parcel Service, Inc. v. Superior Court (2011) 196 Cal. App. 4th 57, 69 held that: “While section 226.7 is reasonably susceptible of alternative interpretations (one allowing a single premium payment per work day and another allowing up to two), we believe it is more reasonable to construe the statute as permitting up to two premium payments per workday—one for failure to provide one or more meal periods, and another for failure to provide one or more rest periods.” (emphasis added).

The United Parcel Service decision means that employees can earn up to one extra hour, per workday, for missed rest periods; and an additional one hour, per workday, for their missed meal breaks.

If an employer is violating your right to take meal and rest breaks, call our office at 949.260.2025 for a free consultation.

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