Under California state law employers must provide non-exempt employees with both meal and rest breaks during their workday. The type and number of breaks is dependent on the length of the employee's shift as well as whether they are classified as exempt or non-exempt. These rules do not apply to truck drivers regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT's) hours-of-service requirements.
Non-exempt employees are entitled to rest breaks in addition to meal breaks, subject to the following rules:
- Employees are entitled to one 10-minute rest period during each four-hour shift, or "major fraction thereof"; The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement considers anything more than two hours to be a "major fraction" of four.
- A rest period is not required for an employee whose total daily work time is less than 3.5 hours.
- Employers should provide a ten-minute break for a shift between 3.5 and 6 hours, a second 10-minute break for a shift lasting between 6 hours and 10 hours, and a third 10-minute break for a shift lasting between 10 and 14 hours.
- Rest breaks should be provided as closely as practicable to the middle of the work period.
- Employees working in extreme weather conditions must be given a five-minute break in a shaded or otherwise protected area as needed; this is considered a cool-down or recovery period, and must be offered in addition to other meal and rest breaks. This break must be paid.
- Rest periods are counted as time worked; therefore, the employer must pay for such periods. Employees may not be required to stay on the employer's premises during their rest break.
- For each day when an employee is required to work through one or both break periods, or is not provided with cool-down periods, the employer must pay the employee for one additional hour of work. This extra hour of pay is considered a penalty rather than wages.
- Exception: For certain employees of 24-hour residential care facilities who may have their rest period limited under certain circumstances.
- Exception: For swimmers, dancers, skaters, and other performers engaged in strenuous physical activities who shall have additional interim rest periods during periods of actual rehearsal or shooting.
- Exception: For employees in certain on-site occupations in the construction, drilling, logging and mining industries, the employer may stagger the rest periods to avoid interruption in the flow of work and to maintain continuous operations, or schedule rest periods to coincide with breaks in the flow of work that occur in the course of the workday. Additionally, for these employees rest periods need not be authorized in limited circumstances when the disruption of continuous operations would jeopardize the product or process of the work. However, under such circumstances, the employer must make up the missed rest period within the same workday or compensate the employee for the missed ten minutes of rest time at his or her regular rate of pay within the same pay period.
- Exception: For some employees in the motion picture and broadcasting industries under certain circumstances.
Note: Federal law requires that lactating women be provided with reasonable breaks to express milk for up to one year after the birth of a child. For additional information, see Recommended content.
Non-exempt employees are entitled to an unpaid meal break (or two), subject to the following rules:
- Employers must provide a meal period of at least 30 minutes beginning no later than the fifth hour of work (e.g., an employee who begins work at 8:00 am must be allowed to begin their lunch period no later than 1:00 pm).
- When the work period is six hours or fewer, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee.
- When the work period is longer than 10 hours, a second meal period of at least 30 minutes must be provided.
- If an employee works a total of 12 hours or fewer, the second meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and the employee only if the first meal period was not waived.
- If the nature of the work prevents relief from all duties, then the on-duty meal period must be compensated. If an employee is required to eat on the work site, the employer must provide a suitable place to consume a meal, as well as soap and water.
- Employees may be required to stay on the employer's premises to eat if they choose to purchase a discounted meal; the option of leaving the premises must be available if the meal is full price.
- For each shift that a meal period is not provided, the employer must pay the employee for one additional hour of work at the employee’s regular rate. Example: An employee generally works from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm with a 30-minute unpaid meal period. If they are prevented from taking lunch and therefore work 8.5 hours, they must be paid for 9.5 hours. This extra hour of pay is considered a penalty rather than wages.
- Employers must relieve employees of all duties during the meal period, but the employer is not responsible for policing the break to ensure that no work is performed during that time.
- Employees subject to collective bargaining agreements may be exempt from the meal period requirement.