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What are California Rest Period and Meal Break Rules?

California also has set specific rules regarding both when and for how long an employee is entitled to a rest period or meal break. California’s rest period and meal break laws may differ for some industries or be subject to a collective bargaining agreement. Below are the general rest period and meal break laws and rules that apply to most employees.

Important Note: Salaried employees may be considered “exempt” employees for the purposes of meal break periods, but this is not always true. To learn more about the difference between exempt employees and nonexempt employees, please click here.

Important Note: California wage laws only apply to “employees” – not “independent contractors.” However, employers may misclassify employees as independent contractors to avoid complying with California’s wage laws. To learn more about the difference between employees and independent contractors, please click here.

When do I get a Meal Break?

An employer must give an employee at least a thirty (30) minute meal break within the first five (5) hours worked within a workday. This first meal break may be waived by agreement of the employee and employer if the total period worked is no more than six (6) hours.

Additionally, an employee is entitled to an additional meal break if he or she works more than ten (10) hours in one workday. The second meal break may be waived by agreement of the employee and employer if the employee took the first meal break and the total period worked is no more than twelve (12) hours.

During these meal periods, an employee must be released of all work related duties but also receives no pay. An “on duty” meal period is only permitted when the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duties and employee agrees to take “on duty” meals. Such a meal period shall be counted as time worked.

To read more about meal breaks, please see Labor Code, Section 512 (click here) or review the applicable Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order for additional information (click here).

When do I get a Rest Period?

Additionally, an employee is also entitled to a ten (10) minute break for each four (4) hour period, or major fraction thereof, worked. But, a rest period is not required for employees who work less than three and a half (3 ½) hours. These rest periods, when possible, should be near the middle of each four (4) hour period. For example, if you work eight hours, then you should get one ten (10) minute break during the first half of your shift and a second ten (10) minute break during the second half of your shift.

Unlike the meal break, a rest period is counted as hours worked and is compensated like any other time you are working. Thus, there should be no deduction from your paycheck for any rest period. To read more about rest periods, please see the applicable Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order for additional information (click here).

Do I get Additional Compensation if I do not get a Meal or Rest Period?

If your employer fails to provide you a rest period or meal break, then your employer must pay you one additional hour of pay for each workday that the meal or rest period is not provided. However, an employee can only receive one additional hour of compensation per workday for a missed meal periods and one additional hour of compensation per workday for a missed rest period. To read more about meal and rest period penalties, please see Labor Code, Section 226.7 (click here) or review the applicable Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order for additional information (click here).

What if I do not get my Rest and Meal Break Period?

In California, aggrieved employees have two options if their employer refuses to allow their employees to take meal or rest periods or pay the additional compensation. They may file an administrative claim with the California Labor Commissioner’s Office or they may file a lawsuit.

The California Labor Commissioner has a helpful website detailing how to file a wage claim. However, California’s Private Attorneys General Act or “PAGA” also authorizes aggrieved employees to file lawsuits to recover civil penalties on behalf of themselves, other employees, and the State of California for Labor Code violations. Essentially, PAGA allows employees to step into the shoes of the Labor Commissioner to enforce California’s Labor Code. Those who intend to pursue PAGA cases must follow the requirements specified in the Labor Code.

Whether it is wise to file an administrative claim with the Labor Commissioner or to file your own lawsuit will often depend on the facts of your individual case. Lawsuits are often subject to more complicated and time consuming procedures than filing an administrative claim. Thus, a lawsuit may not make sense in a simple case. A lawsuit, however, may be appropriate for multifaceted claims or cases involving a large number of employees. Given the complex nature of California’s wage law, consulting an experienced attorney is often a good idea before asserting any legal claim. Many attorneys will offer free initial consultations and will take a case on a contingency basis, meaning you may not have to pay any attorneys’ fees and costs unless the case is successful.

Important Note: Wage claims may be subject to a number of “statutes of limitation” or time periods in which an employee must bring their claims. Thus, it is important to act immediately when you discover any wage law violations.

Important Note: An employer may violate federal labor laws (including the Fair Labor Standards Act), in addition to violating California’s Labor Code. The federal laws may also allow you to file an administrative claim or file a lawsuit. Again, because there is a number of laws that may be applicable to your claim, your best option may be to consult with an attorney.

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