California’s Meal and Rest Laws [2021]

California’s employment laws are relatively strong when compared to those of numerous other states. Many of California’s laws are designed to ensure workers are treated fairly and ethically on the job.

However, some employers don’t necessarily abide by all applicable laws and regulations. You need to be familiar with your rights as an employee to avoid unfair treatment in the workplace.

California has specific laws regarding how much time employees should be permitted to spend on breaks and meals. The following overview will cover what you need to know about these statutes in 2021. If you believe your rights as an employee are being violated, get in touch with a California meal and rest breaks attorney to address the situation properly.

Meal and Rest Breaks

There is no universal rule regarding how much time employees must allow workers to devote to meal breaks and rest breaks in California. The law varies depending on the length of an employee’s shift.

As of this writing, the basics of the law are as follows:

  • Employees who work more than five hours per day must be provided with a meal period of at least 30 minutes (although both employer and employee can waive this meal period if the total work shift is no more than six hours per day)
  • Employees who work more than 10 hours per day must be provided with at least two meal periods of at least 30 minutes each (although the second meal period can be waived by both employer and employee if the total work shift is no more than 12 hours per day)

Employers and supervisors are not allowed to interrupt an employee’s break. For example, suppose you are taking a meal break and a supervisor demands that you respond to a work-related email. In this case, they are not permitted to take disciplinary action against you if you refuse to comply with their demands.

Meal breaks are not the only types of breaks that employees may be entitled to in California. Specifically, for every four hours that you spend working, you may take a 10-minute break from work that doesn’t have to overlap with a meal break. Employees are advised to take these breaks during the middle of four-hour spans of work. It’s also best if they take said breaks in areas of their workplace that are separate from where they tend to perform their work-related tasks.

Waiving Breaks in California

Again, there are instances when employees and employers in California can choose to waive a meal break. This is not something that should happen often. Ideally, employees and their supervisors will only agree to waive the right to a break if taking a break would unreasonably prevent an employee from completing an essential task. Don’t let an employer abuse this loophole too often.

Penalties for Violating California’s Meal and Rest Break Laws

An employer may face fines if they are found to be in violation of California’s meal and rest break laws. However, when serious violations occur, they may even face civil consequences.

Employers must often provide some form of restitution to employees who have been deprived of breaks they deserve under California law.

Just be aware that proving an employer has violated California’s relevant labor laws can require conducting an investigation into the matter. You may not be prepared to do so on your own. This is one of the many reasons you should consider reviewing your case with an attorney.

If you suspect your employer has been unfairly preventing you from taking breaks, or if you have been punished by an employer because you have elected to take your breaks, it’s wise to discuss the circumstances with a lawyer. They can help you determine whether taking legal action is necessary. They can also protect you from future abuses of power.