Guide to Laws about Breaks and Meal Periods for Employees in California

This page is part of our comprehensive Guide to Laws for Employees in California.

Do I have a right to take breaks?

If you are an “exempt” employee (see above), you do not have the specific right to take breaks.

If you are non-exempt (see above), you have a right to a 10 minute paid rest period for every 4 hours worked or major fraction thereof (anything more than 2 hours). But if you work less than 3.5 hours in a day, you are not entitled to a break.

If your employer does not allow you to take a break, the employer must pay you 1 hour of pay at your regular rate of pay for each workday that the rest period is not provided.1Labor Code Section 226.7

Exceptions: The standard break laws do NOT apply to certain athletes, performers, or certain employees of 24 hour residential care facilities.2IWC Order 12-2001, Section 12 (C)

Does my break need to be at any particular time?

The break generally must be in the middle of every 4 hour work period, unless the nature or circumstances of the work make this impractical.

Is my boss required to give me a lunch break or other meal break?

If you work for more than 5 hours in a day, you are entitled to at least a 30 minute meal period. If you work more than 10 hours in a day, you are entitled to a 2nd meal period of at least 30 minutes.

Entertainment industry: for certain employees in the entertainment industry, the rule is that if you work for more than 6 hours in a day you are entitled to at least a 30 minute meal break.3IWC Order 12-2001, Section 11(A) See more about the Entertainment Industry.

Can my employer round off start and stop times of breaks and meal periods on a punch time clock?

No, not for meal and break periods. But they can do so for work start and end times.4Recently affirmed in Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC

Is my boss required to allow me to breastfeed my baby?

Yes, every employee has the right to take a break to breastfeed (but not in addition to the regular breaks if required). Also the employer generally must provide reasonable “lactation accommodation” such as a room or other private area.5Labor Code 1030

Can I choose to work through a break period?

While an employer may be required to offer and provide you with the opportunity to take breaks and meals, as discussed above, the employee is not required to actually TAKE the full break or any break at all. Employers do not need to “police” meals to make sure no work is performed.

If an employer’s records do not reflect a compliant meal period, it will raise a rebuttable presumption that none was provided. The employer may rebut the presumption by presenting evidence that employees were compensated for noncompliant meals, or that they had in fact been provided compliant meal periods during which they chose to work.6Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC

If I work through my breaks or meal periods, do I have a right to leave early or come in late?


Can my boss require that I stay at my job location during my break?

No, but if you leave the premises then the time spent leaving and coming back count as part of the break.7In Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., (2016) 5 Cal.5th 257, 269, the California Supreme Court held that the rest period requirement “obligates employers to permit-and authorizes employees to take-off-duty rest periods. That is, during rest periods employers must relieve employees of all duties and relinquish control over how employees spend their time.”

Can my boss require that I stay at my job location during my meal period?

Yes, but if they require this they must pay you for that time (with some exceptions). Also if you are required to eat on the premises, a suitable place for that purpose must be designated. “Suitable” means a sheltered place with facilities available for securing hot food and drink or for heating food or drink, and for consuming such food and drink.

Further Resources

See more about breaks and meal periods at the Department of Labor.

Also see our full Guide to Laws for Employees.

Photo credit: Photo by logan jeffrey on Unsplash


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