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
A “rest break” is 10-minutes of uninterrupted time when you’re free from all work duties. You’re entitled to be paid during your rest break. A “meal break” is a duty-free, uninterrupted 30 minutes of time when you can do whatever you want (you don’t have to eat!).
Here’s how many “rest” and “meal” breaks you’re entitled to as a non-exempt employee:
- For shifts of 3.5 hours or less, you’re not entitled to a meal or a rest break;
- For shifts of 3.5 to 5 hours, you’re entitled to one 10-minute rest break;
- For shifts of 5+ to 6 hours, you get one rest break and one meal break (though you can waive this meal break to go home early if you wish);
- For shifts of 6+ to 10 hours, you get 2 rest breaks and one meal break (which can’t be waived);
- For shifts of 10+ to 14 hours, you get 3 rest breaks and 2 meal breaks (one of which may be waived); and
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.
How to Recover Money for Missed Meal And/Or 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”);
- 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.