California workers are entitled to regular meal and rest breaks under California labor laws. However, if an employer denies an employee their meal or rest break, the law requires the employer to “compensate” the employee at a premium rate for the time. 

According to California Labor Code §226.7(c), an employer must pay the employee one additional hour of pay for each workday that a meal or rest period was not provided. This compensation is called premium wages. The rate of premium wages is based on the employee’s regular rate of compensation.

However, there has been some confusion about what is meant by the “regular rate of compensation” used to calculate the premium rate. 

New Laws In Effect

On July 15, 2021, the California Supreme Court explained what the term “regular rate of compensation” meant regarding premium wages. In Ferra vs. Loews Hollywood Hotel, the court said that the premium wage for missed meals and rest breaks is the same as the regular rate of pay for overtime wages. Overtime regular rate of pay includes all non-discretionary payments for work performed by the employee. 

Furthermore, the court ordered that the ruling be applied retroactively. Therefore, talk with an employment lawyer in San Diego if you believe you did not receive the correct pay for missed meal times or rest breaks. You could be entitled to additional compensation for missed breaks and meal times. 

What Are the Current California Meal and Rest Break Laws?

Fortunately for California workers, the state labor laws offer many protections for employees. One of those protections is providing specific rules for an employee’s meal and break periods. 

The number and the length of breaks depend on an employee’s work schedule. Generally, the following law applies to employee meal breaks and rest periods:

  • A meal break of at least 30 minutes for employees who work more than five hours per day
  • Two meal periods of at least 30 minutes for employees who work more than ten hours per day

An employee has the right to an uninterrupted meal break. Therefore, they cannot be asked to do work, be questioned by a supervisor about their duties, or be required to handle a client or customer problem during their meal break. In addition, employees are permitted to leave the premises during their meal breaks and are not required to eat during meal breaks.

Rest periods are also required by California labor law. Generally, an employee is entitled to a 10-minute rest period for every four hours worked during a day. The timing of the rest period may be at any time, but most employers try to set the period near the middle of the four hours. 

Can an Employee Waive Breaks in California?

The employee may waive their rest breaks or meal periods in some instances. For example, an employee and employer can waive the meal period if the employee does not work more than six hours a day. In addition, the second meal period may be waived if the work shift is no more than 12 hours.

However, waiving breaks is not a good practice for employees or employers. Employees need breaks to rest and eat between long shifts. Employees pressured to waive breaks can discuss their situation with a San Diego labor law attorney. 

Are All Employees Entitled to Meal and Rest Breaks?

Only non-exempt employees are entitled to meal and rest breaks. White-collar workers are the largest group of exempt employees. An exempt employee is someone who:

  • Spends at least one-half of their work time performing managerial, creative, or executive tasks;
  • Can exercise discretion and independent judgment while performing their work duties; and,
  • Earn a salary at least twice the minimum wage for full-time California employees.

In addition to white-collar workers, some industry-specific exceptions to the meal and rest period laws exist. Commercial truck drivers, health care workers, and construction workers are a few examples of workers who may have industry-specific rules for rest and meal breaks.

Also, independent contractors are not subject to the break and meal period requirements. Furthermore, unions and employees subject to a collective bargaining agreement may have different schedules for mandatory rest periods and meal breaks.

On-call workers may also have different rules about meal breaks and rest periods. If you are unsure what your rights are regarding rest and meal periods at your job, talk with a lawyer. You may file a claim through the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement for violations of your meal and rest period rights. If you cannot resolve the dispute informally or through the DLSE, you might have the right to file a lawsuit against your employer for violations of employment laws.

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About The Author

Nicholas J. Ferraro

Nicholas J. Ferraro is a skilled labor and employment lawyer and the founder of Ferraro Vega Employment Lawyers, Inc. Based in San Diego, he focuses on representing employees in class action and collective litigation cases. Education: Mr. Ferraro attended the University of San Diego School of Law, where he was a member of the San Diego Law Review. Experience: Over a decade of legal practice, representing more than 100,000 employees. Court Admissions: Mr. Ferraro represents his clients throughout the State of California and the State of Washington. He is a member of the State Bar of California. Community Involvement: Active member of the California Employment Lawyers Association and the San Diego County Bar Association.