california meal break law, california rest break law

Under California meal break law (which is much more generous to employees than federal labor law), if you are a non-exempt worker, you are entitled to a 30-minute uninterrupted, duty-free meal break if you work more than 5 hours in a workday.  You are also entitled to a 10-minute uninterrupted, duty-free rest breaks for every 4 hours you work (or “major fraction” thereof). If your boss doesn’t comply with break law requirements, they are required to pay you one extra hour of regular pay for each day on which a meal break violation occurred, and another extra hour of regular pay for each day on which a rest break violation occurred.

Meal Break & Rest Break Calculator

This meal break and rest break calculator will tell you how many meal and/or rest breaks you are entitled to under California labor law.

Start of Your Shift (e.g., "9:00 am"): End of Your Shift (e.g., "5:00 pm"):
(The page will refresh after you press "calculate". Scroll down to see results in blue text.)

California Rest Break Law Chart

Hours on the ClockRest Breaks
0 – 3:29 hrs0
3:30 – 6 hrs1
6:01 – 10 hrs2
10:01 – 14 hrs3
14:01 – 18 hrs4
18:01 – 22 hrs5

California Rest Break Requirements

  • Your boss must give you a rest break of at least 10 consecutive minutes that are uninterrupted.
  • Rest breaks must be paid.
  • If you work at least 3.5 hours in a day, you are entitled to one rest break. If you work over 6 hours, you are entitled to a second rest break. If you work over 10 hours, you are entitled to a third rest break.
  • Rest breaks must to the extent possible be in the middle of each work period. If you work 8 hours or so, you should have a separate rest break both before and after your meal break.
  • Your boss may not require you to remain on work premises during your rest breaks.
  • You cannot be required to work during any required rest breaks. [Cal. Lab. C. 226.7]. BUT, you are free to skip your rest breaks provided your boss isn’t encouraging or forcing you to.

California Meal Break Law Chart

Hours on the ClockMeal Breaks
0 – 5 hrs0
5:01 – 10 hrs1
10:01 – 15 hrs2
15:01 – 20 hrs3
20:01 –4

California Meal Break Law Requirements

  • If you work over 5 hours in a day, you are entitled to a meal break of at least 30 minutes that must start before the end of the fifth hour of your shift. BUT, you can agree with your boss to waive this meal period provided you do not work more than 6 hours in the workday. You can also agree with your boss to an on-duty meal break which counts as time worked and is paid.
  • If you work over 10 hours in a day, you are entitled to a second meal break of at least 30 minutes that must start before the end of the tenth hour of your shift. You can agree with your boss to waive the second meal break if you do not work more than 12 hours and you did not waive your first meal break.
  • You must be allowed to take your meal break off work premises and spend your break how you wish, since it is off the clock.
  • You cannot be required to work during any required meal break. [Cal. Lab. C. 512].
  • As of 2012, your boss has an affirmative obligation to ensure that breaks are made available to you but the actual taking of meal breaks is left to the employee. In other words, you are responsible for “breaking” yourself.

Note, rest breaks and meal breaks are supposed to be separate, they should not be combined. Your boss cannot give you a single 1-hour break and say that that counts as all of your meal breaks and rest breaks.

Keep in mind, there are many exceptions to the above for certain industries, such as the construction, healthcare, group home, motion picture, manufacturing, and baking industries.

Can I Sue My Employer for Violating California Meal Break and Rest Break Law?

Yes you can, and you should. If your employer is denying you meal breaks and rest breaks, you would be entitled to receive a penalty of 1 hour wages per day you were denied any rest breaks, and an additional penalty of 1 hour wages per day you were denied any meal breaks (for a maximum penalty of up to 2 hours wages per day). We can help you file a California labor board complaint. Give us a call at (213) 992-3299. Note, your claims are subject to strict filing deadlines. For meal and rest break violations, the filing deadline is usually considered to be 3 years thanks to a recent California Supreme Court decision. [Murphy v Kenneth Cole Productions, 40 Cal.4th 1094 (2007)], but in certain cases, a 1 year filing deadline could apply.

I Am an Exempt Salaried Worker, Can I Still Sue My Employer?

The correct answer is “it depends”. There are many kinds of exemptions under California labor laws. If you are a supervisor, you may fall under the supervisor exemption, otherwise known as the executive exemption. But that exemption has many requirements which your employer may have blown. Also, other kinds of exempt employees are still entitled to meal break and rest break rights. For instance, truck drivers are often considered exempt. However, under California labor laws, they must still receive their meal breaks and rest breaks. Another example are “inside salespeople” who sell products or services while physically stationed at the employer’s office. While normally considered “exempt”, they are still entitled to meal breaks and rest breaks. Again, consult a lawyer to see if your situation qualifies for breaks.

Call (213) 992-3299 and Get Your Labor Board Complaint Started Now

Feel free to give us a call at (213) 992-3299 if you want to discuss filing a labor board complaint. We have successfully obtained awards for our clients in over 97% of our trials and hearings — one of the best trial records in the State of California. Let us put our decades of legal experience to work for you.

Photo courtesy of cjmellows


  1. MWest on August 5, 2020 at 3:50 pm

    Our employees work 6am to 2:30pm Monday – Friday. We current offer morning break at 8 am and lunch at 11am. Our employees want to change their break to 9:30 am and lunch to 12pm. Can we do that legally? Do we need them to sign a waiver of some kind?

  2. Dali on August 5, 2020 at 1:10 pm

    If I work from 8:30 to 5:30 and lunch from 12:00 to 1:30 .
    Is that legal? I get an hour lunch and 30 min paid rest break for the day.
    I do not have to stay on premises.

  3. Tim on August 5, 2020 at 12:32 am

    I work a 40 plus work week. Monday thru Friday. My boss says “some Saturdays are mandatory.
    Can my boss make me work a Saturday too in addition to working my regular work schedule?

    • Joshua Petrie on August 5, 2020 at 8:21 am

      I don’t know enough about this, but look in to “SB 878 Fair Scheduling Act”.

      See also Reporting Time Pay

      That being said, AFAIK, the employer sets the employee’s schedule. I don’t know how legally enforceable it is, but was there any kind of availability form filled out that would be on file that says you aren’t available on Saturdays?

      • Tim on August 6, 2020 at 7:22 am

        No forms. When we were hired our schedule is Monday thru Fri with weekends off. We get paid weekly, every Friday, by check

        But lately he has been wanting to work us Saturdays and Sundays, paid in cash, at the end of the work day, more than our normal rate. He actually provides us lunch too.
        But I don’t want to work, I’m tired from the work week, and the triple digit heat doesn’t help either!

    • Joshua Petrie on August 5, 2020 at 10:57 pm

      Found the answer, I think!

      “Q. Can an employer require an employee to work overtime?

      A. Yes, in general an employer may dictate the employee’s work schedule and hours. Additionally, under most circumstances the employer may discipline an employee, up to and including termination, if the employee refuses to work scheduled overtime. However, an employer cannot discipline an employee for refusing to work on the 7th day in a workweek and is subject to a penalty for causing or inducing an employee to forego a day of rest. An employee who is fully apprised of the entitlement to rest may independently chooses not to take a day of rest.”

  4. Tommy on August 5, 2020 at 12:11 am

    In landscape construction, what is supposed to be provided for employees by employers?
    I heard easy up shade, if digging?
    I also heard water is also responsibility of employers? Is that true?
    We dig trenches for irrigation or holes for trees, in the sun, 100 plus degrees outside with no shade at all.

  5. Sam on August 5, 2020 at 12:03 am

    Our work shift Work shift 7a-4p Monday-Friday. Weekends are supposed to be off.
    Boss says weekend work for “cash pay” and is “optional” for anyone wanting to make extra.
    Some ppl go to work and some don’t. But the attitude on Monday for not going to work on weekends is obvious.
    Any advice?

  6. David on August 3, 2020 at 9:20 pm

    I start work at 5am my lunch starts at 10am on a 8 hour shift. Is 10am the start of the 6th hour ? Is that a 5 hour lunch violation?

    • Joshua Petrie on August 4, 2020 at 10:53 am

      5am is 0 hour, so what I usually do is count out loud from the start time and then with the next hour open my first finger until the fifth finger opens. So, 6 (index finger opens), 7 (middle), 8 (ring), 9 (pinky), 10 (thumb).

      “If you work over 5 hours in a day, you are entitled to a meal break of at least 30 minutes that must start before the end of the fifth hour of your shift.”

      As long as I can stop work at or before the 5th hour ends I don’t seek a meal penalty hour of pay.

  7. Andres Garcia on August 2, 2020 at 12:34 pm

    Is it legal for them to tell you to take a early lunch ? My shift starts at 12 ends at 8 . They want me to take my lunch at 2 or 3 which I find pointless cause I’m not tired I rather take it at the end of my 5 like I’m supposed to. Please let me know how I can go about it.

    • Joshua Petrie on August 4, 2020 at 11:13 am

      AFAIK, the employer directs an employee’s schedule including breaks. There apparently needs to be a rest break before a meal break (see Eugene’s recent comment: ) so maybe they work it something like this?

      In: 12pm
      (paid 10 min rest break at 1pm?)
      Out: 2pm
      (unpaid 30 min meal break)
      In: 2:30pm
      (paid 10 min rest break at 4:30)
      Out: 8pm
      Total time paid: 7.5 hours

      One thing I’m not absolutely clear on is how the timing of a meal break affects the timing of a meal penalty. I get it from a a maximum POV—like all the info says: if you work over 5 hours you need access to a meal break. But what if you’re not near the 5 hour max, like in your case? I wonder if any 30 minute unpaid break resets the 5 hour clock. Or if within each 5 hour block you need a meal break, but it doesn’t matter too much where (as long as there’s a rest break before it, per the aforementioned link)…?

      If you worked 12 to 3 took a meal break, then worked 3:30 to 8, I don’t see an issue because it’s less than 5 hours (4.5 hours).

  8. Tim on August 1, 2020 at 8:38 am

    Is it illegal for someone to give a meal break and not even give them a 10 min break before the 4th hour of their shift?

  9. Adrianna on July 31, 2020 at 11:09 am

    I informed HR of lunches I clocked out on but continued to work for almost 3 months . They stated they would issue a payment to me this was back in Feb 2020 it is now July and I have made several attempts to find out the status of this but they keep saying they are working on it . Should I peruse with a lawsuit?

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