In California, most non-exempt employees are entitled to a certain number of meal breaks and rest periods throughout their work shifts. How many breaks you’re entitled to depend mainly on the length of your shift.
If you feel your California employer is denying you a proper meal or rest breaks, reach out to the expert wage and hour attorneys at Workplace Rights Law Group in Southern California today.
YOUR RIGHTS TO BREAKS UNDER CALIFORNIA LAW AS A NON-EXEMPT EMPLOYEE
California Rest Break Laws
|Working hours||Rest breaks|
|3.5 hours or less||0|
The California rest break law chart above depicts how many breaks are required during certain working hours. Some specific requirements come with rest break laws, including:
- Employers must give employees 10 consecutive, uninterrupted minutes;
- Employees are relieved of all duties during this time;
- Rest breaks must be paid; and
- These breaks should be taken in the middle of the workday.
Employers must follow all of these requirements when providing employees with rest breaks.
California Meal Break Laws
|Working hours||Meal breaks|
|5 hours or less||0|
Similar to rest breaks, California law has specific requirements for meal breaks, including:
- Employers must give employees 30 uninterrupted minutes;
- Employees must be relieved of all duties; and
- Employees may do anything they choose during this time.
Unlike rest breaks, these 30-minute meal breaks are unpaid. Employees may leave the premises and use their time for personal matters. Employers cannot discourage or impede employees from taking meal breaks.
What If My Employer Doesn’t Allow Me My California Meal or Rest Breaks?
If your employer fails to provide you with a proper meal break – whether by cutting your time short, or requiring or pressuring you to work through some or all of your meal period, or not providing for meal breaks at all — you may be entitled to one extra hour of pay.
This would be paid at your regular rate for each day you didn’t get a proper meal break.
So, for example, if your employer denied you a proper meal break for an entire year, which is about 250 work days, you might be entitled to damages equal to 250 x your wage rate. So If you were making $15/hour, that’d be $3,750 in extra wages you were owed.
The same is true for rest breaks.
If your employer fails to provide you with proper rest breaks, you’re entitled to an extra hour of pay for each work day they deprived you of a rest break you were entitled to. And if your employer didn’t give you a proper meal break or a proper rest break, they’d owe you two extra hours of pay for that day.
As always, there are nuances and technicalities to California’s meal and rest break laws, which is why you should consult with a California workers’ rights attorneys if you do believe your employer is violating your rights.
For example, if a meal or rest break was made available to you, but you voluntarily and willingly decided to skip it and work through your break or eat while working, your employer would not owe you any extra wages or penalty. They only have to “provide” you with those break times. What you do with them is up to you.
But if you’re pressured to skip a break, or feel you’ll be criticized or denied advancement or perks if you take your full breaks, or if you need to skip your breaks to meet work deadlines, your employer might still be on the hook for penalty wages.
Talk to a California worker’s rights attorney to be sure.
What If I’m an Exempt Employee?
Salaried employees who work in certain professions and meet certain minimum earning requirements are exempt from many of the rules that apply to non-exempt employees. Most exempt employees are not entitled to rest breaks, but they must still be given meal breaks.
There are also some specific professions that are exempt from certain labor laws but not others. For example, truck drivers are exempt from overtime laws, but they are still entitled to both rest breaks and meal breaks.
An employment attorney can examine your particular situation further to see if you qualify for rest and meal breaks.
How to Recover Money for Missed Meal And/Or Rest Breaks
If your employer has denied you a proper meal or rest breaks, you’re entitled to extra wages under California employment law.
You have four basic options to get them:
- Ask your employer for those extra wages, and try things on your own, without a lawyer’s help and without pursuing formal legal remedies;
- File a lawsuit in court;
- File a wage claim with California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (commonly called the “Labor Commissioner”); or
- Contact a worker’s rights lawyer and get their help in trying to convince your employer to pay you what you’re owed and to help you decide on, and implement, your best alternatives if your employer refuses.
Some employers do want to and try to do the right thing. And if you let them know you’re owed extra wages, and it turns out that you are, they’ll pay you in full with little hassle. Unfortunately, many employers aren’t like that at all. And if your employer isn’t, then your best bet is to contact an experienced employment law lawyer.
If you think you’ve been denied proper meal or rest periods, consult with a California wage and hour attorney. The right attorney can help you evaluate and determine your best option for recovery as well as helping you implement that option. And don’t forget, the law has strict deadlines for filing certain claims. Make sure your rights are protected and protected now.