A Quick Summary of Meal and Rest Break Law

By: Laura C. Hess

California's meal and rest break laws are complex. The following is by no means an exhaustive list of everything you need to know about meal and rest breaks. It is a general overview of some of the most important concepts.

  • Nonexempt employees must receive meal periods. The start and ending time of their meal periods must be recorded.
  • Employers must provide a meal period to nonexempt employees who work more than 5 hours in a workday. The meal period must start before the beginning of the 6th hour worked. (So if your employee asks you if he can work through lunch so that he can leave early at the end of the 8 hour workday, the answer is no. Whether you choose to let the employee leave early is up to you, but the employee must take a lunch break at the required time.) However, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and employee if the employee's workday does not exceed 6 hours.
  • Employers must provide a second meal period to nonexempt employees who work more than 10 hours in a workday. The second meal period must start before the beginning of the 11th hour worked. The second meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and employee if the employee does not work more than 12 hours in the workday and has not already waived the first meal period.
  • Meal periods may be unpaid, must last a minimum of 30 uninterrupted minutes, must be free of all duty, and the employee must be permitted to leave the workplace.
  • Employers must pay nonexempt employees an hour of pay at their regular rate for each workday that a meal period was not provided.
  • Rest periods must be authorized and permitted for every four hours worked "or major fraction thereof." The DLSE interprets the phrase "authorize and permit" as requiring employers to merely make rest periods available to employees. No rest period is required if the employee's workday is less than 3 ½ hours. Rest periods should, insofar as practicable, be in the middle of each work period. "Major fraction thereof" means more than 2 hours. For example, an employee who works an 8 hour workday must be authorized and permitted to take 2 paid rest periods, as close as practicable to the middle of each 4 hour segment of the workday.
  • Rest periods must be paid and uninterrupted for a full 10 minutes, must be free of all duty, but the employee may be required to remain at the worksite during rest periods. Rest periods may not be combined with another rest period, a meal period, or be taken at the start or end of the workday.
  • Employers are not required to document rest periods in their payroll records.
  • Employers must pay nonexempt employees an hour of pay at their regular rate for each workday that a rest period was not provided.

Laura C. Hess is a Partner with Kring & Chung, LLP's Irvine, CA office. She can be contacted at (949) 261-7700

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