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Understanding the laws on meal and rest breaks in California

| May 5, 2021 | Wage & Hour Law

Meals and rest breaks are important for all employees. Breaks allow you to mentally and physically reset so that after your break you can go back to being productive, alert and on-point. Studies have shown that workers who take regular paid breaks are actually more productive than those who do not. However, unfortunately, many employers are still ignorant of this fact, and they are reluctant to give their employees the breaks that they need.

In California, there are laws in place to ensure that workers are able to take regular rest and meal breaks. In professions where employees drive or operate heavy machinery, meal and rest breaks can be potentially life-saving. If you believe that you are not getting your rightful meal and rest breaks, you could be owed significant back pay. Following is an overview of the meal and rest break laws in California:

Meal breaks

In California, nonexempt employees who work at least five hours in a single workday must be provided with a meal break of a minimum of 30 minutes. This meal break should take place within the first five hours of the work shift.

If an employee works more than 10 hours in a workday, they are entitled to another meal break of at least 30 minutes.

Rest breaks

Employers in California must give employees one paid 10-minute rest break for every four-hour period they work, or major fraction thereof. This rest break must be free of work duties. Unfortunately, some employers deny their workers they breaks they need by placing workers “on-call.” This often happens to workers who use walkie-talkies or cellphones to stay in contact regarding work matters. However, just because your employer requires you to use a walkie-talkie does not necessarily mean that you can be denied rest breaks.

If you believe that you have not been given the adequate amount of paid and unpaid breaks as a worker in California, you may be entitled to back pay or compensation. To learn more, please see our detailed overview of meal and rest breaks in California. Remember, many employment law problems are not isolated to one individual. There may be bigger issues with a particular employer who fails to give meal and rest breaks to employees. For more on that, please see our overview of employment class actions.