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What Break Periods Am I Entitled To? (2018)

california meal breaks, california rest breaks, break lawsUnder California law (which is much more generous to employees than federal law), if you are a non-exempt worker, you are entitled to meal and rest breaks: a 30-minute meal break if you work more than 5 hours in a workday, and 10 minutes breaks for every 4 hours you work. There are other requirements though. If your boss doesn’t comply with break 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.

For the nitty gritties, see below:

Rest Breaks

  1. Your boss must give you a rest break of at least 10 consecutive minutes that are uninterrupted.
  2. Rest breaks must be paid.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Your boss may require you to remain on work premises during your rest break.
  6. You cannot be required to work during any required rest break. [Cal. Lab. C. 226.7]. BUT, you are free to skip your rest break provided your boss isn’t encouraging or forcing you to.

Meal Breaks

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. You cannot be required to work during any required meal break. [Cal. Lab. C. 226.7].
  5. 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 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 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.

If your employer is violating your rights to meal and rest breaks, you should contact a lawyer right away as you may 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). 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.

Keep on taking those breaks!

Photo courtesy of cjmellows


  1. Cecile Hinshaw on December 14, 2017 at 6:39 pm

    I’m confused….the first paragraph says a 10 minute break for every 4 hours worked. But in the “nitty gritty” it says at 3.5 hours you’re entitled to a 20 minute break. What’s the difference ?

    • Eugene Lee on December 14, 2017 at 10:57 pm

      Cecile, great point. So it’s a 10 minute break for every 4 hours works “or major fraction thereof”. So as a rule of thumb, it’s every 4 hours. But if you want to get very precise, it’s as follows:

      At 3.5 hours, you get a 10-minute rest break
      After 6 hours, you get a second 10-minute rest break
      After 10 hours, you get a third 10-minute rest break
      After 14 hours, you get a fourth 10-minute rest break
      After 18 hours, you get a fifth 10-minute rest break
      After 22 hours, you get a sixth 10-minute rest break

  2. Renee on December 14, 2017 at 8:19 am

    Hi, if im scheduled to work from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm do i have to take a 30 minute break if i dont want to ? Wouldn’t just a 10 minute break be required ?

    • Eugene Lee on December 14, 2017 at 10:59 pm

      Well, if you work 5 hours or less, you aren’t entitled to a 30-minute meal break anyway. You have to work OVER 5 hours to be entitled to a meal break. And it’s up to you to break yourself. But the employer has the right to discipline you if they want you to take your breaks and you decide to skip.

  3. Esmeralda on December 13, 2017 at 8:13 pm

    I work for healthcare company where i called in stating i would be late as i had family emergency. Normally i start at 8 but ended up at work after 10:30 close to 11 since i had no breakfast I asked my supervisor for a 30 minute lunch which she agreed but turned out i clocked back in at 26 minutes i clocked out at 12:08 and clocked back at 12:34 then i work till 5 my normal time but the provider i worked for still had a patient so clocked out at 5:30 now i am being written up for taking only 26 minutes of lunch and stating i worked over 5 hours so needed the full 30 minutes. Are they correct?

    • Eugene Lee on December 13, 2017 at 11:05 pm

      Well, I think the employer has a point. You are entitled to lunch breaks of at least 30 minutes in duration. You can “waive” that requirement if you want, but it has to be with the agreement of the employer. Here, your employer isn’t agreeing, hence the writeup. I think your employer is acting well within the law here.

  4. Bob on December 13, 2017 at 11:57 am

    What about working 1 hour then taking an hour lunch break and then working 5.5 hours. Is a second lunch break required?

    • Eugene Lee on December 13, 2017 at 10:59 pm

      No – because you didn’t work over 10 hours on the clock. However, since you worked more than 6 hours on the clock, you should’ve received two 10-minute paid rest breaks.

  5. Laura on December 12, 2017 at 11:03 am

    I have a question. The company I work for doesn’t have us punch in and out for lunch, but takes the 30 minutes from our pay either way (even if we don’t get a lunch). In this situation is it legal for them to not require us to punch in and out and automatically take the 30 minutes out? I honestly don’t mind since I work for a school and I take my lunch when the students leave but this is after the 5 hour mark.

    • Eugene Lee on December 13, 2017 at 11:02 pm

      Not even close to legal. Not only are you being denied a meal break premium, you also are owed pay for the 30 minutes you worked off the clock. If this puts you over 8 hours worked in a day, then you are also owed overtime premium at time and a half.

      If you later take your lunch but it is after the end of the fifth hour, that is a late lunch and you are still owed a late lunching premium.

      If you are ok with all of that, then you are effectively waiving the meal break violation, which is of course your choice.

  6. Jessica on December 12, 2017 at 10:30 am

    My employer has never denied me a 10 min break when I have asked. But is it up to me to ask for the break? or should my employer be coming to me and offering it. Again when I have asked I have never been denied.

    • Eugene Lee on December 13, 2017 at 11:06 pm

      Since 2012, it is up to you to break yourself. If you have never been denied when you asked for a break, then there is no violation.

  7. Paige on December 12, 2017 at 1:32 am

    I worked in a small business yogurt shop. When we first had opened during my training the owner would forget to give me my break so by the end of my shift he would ask if I had taken any breaks and I had to take the break very close to the end of my shift or at the end of my shift. We also only had 2 full time employees (me and one other co worker) I worked the closing shift 2:30pm – 10:30pm with no one to come in to give me my breaks. Our store manager/co owner was supposed to come in and cover my breaks which was as followed. 1st break 4:30pm lunch tbd 2nd break after closing at 10pm. Lunch was tbd because the store manager didn’t know what time she would be coming in. I started taking my lunch at 4:30 because I would end up taking my lunch at 8 or 9 at night. My 10 minute breaks ended up being taken when it was slow enough for me to take them and many of the times I couldn’t rest for the full 10 minutes because customers would come in. The store manager would also call an hour before closing to ask if I had taken any breaks.

  8. Jaz on December 12, 2017 at 12:42 am

    Hello, I work overnight in a retail store. They will announce on the overhead speaker to take our 15 minute break. Management states that we are on our break the minute we stop working. However, our break room is upstairs and it can take up to 3-4 minutes to get up there. They then announce when break is over, usually calling 1-2 minutes early. When does my break begin and end? When I am “at rest” and sitting? Or when I stop working?

  9. Rory on December 11, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    Hi everyone I currently work a part-time shifts in a pizza restaurant my current question is an opposite of most of your problems because we only work a maximum of six hours shift starts at 5:30 p.m. we close at 10 p.m. we’re barely here till 11:30 on Mondays and Wednesdays we are done as early as 10:15 for the shutting down the restaurant my boss is trying to force our 30-minute lunch breaks on us saying set all closers have to take a 30 minute lunch break I feel she is doing this because she can’t afford to pay all of us so she’s trying to cut her hours but this is wage fat correct is there anything I can do to combat this???

  10. Amy Myers-Barrett on December 11, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    I just found out that my 10 min breaks are not being paid for. The policy is I have to take my break right on the two hour mark after clock in. If I take it a minute late I don’t get paid for that break and they take 15 minutes from your pay.

    • Nancy on December 14, 2017 at 1:28 pm

      Your employer is breaking the law. All rest periods should be paid for. They can only remove meal periods.

  11. Colin on December 11, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    I currently work at a coffeeshop. The owner scheduled us for 6 hour shifts, with one person for each shift. I recall signing a waiver when I first began working to waive the mandatory unpaid 30-minute meal break for an compensated “on-duty meal break”. Since this is a breech of Labor Law 226.7, does this mean I am also entitled to an additional hour of pay? Or, does that only apply had I not signed the waiver, the worked 6 hours, and got compensated for the 6 hours? One of the other employees in in the latter scenario. Thank you.

  12. danny on December 11, 2017 at 9:15 am

    If the employee can’t use 10 minutes break because of being busy, can an employee has an option to use it right away after the meal period? Thanks

    • Nancy on December 14, 2017 at 1:30 pm

      Per California law, you cannot combine meal and rest periods. They should be taken separately.

  13. Gene on December 10, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    I started a new job at a restaurant that just opened up. Some shifts I am required to clock in and then immediately clock out for a 30 min break. Sometimes I don’t even work a full six hours. Is there a time limit that is required prior to taking a break? It doesn’t seem right that I have to start my shift with an instant break. There’s no time for rest breaks as the place can be very fast paced or if we are seen with down time, we are given tasks.

  14. Johnny on December 9, 2017 at 11:23 am

    So I’ve agreed with my employer to a paid “on-duty” meal period. Are there any penalties if I am unable to take my 10 min breaks?

    • Eugene Lee on December 9, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      Yes. Meal breaks can be waived. However rest breaks can never be waived.

  15. Tina on December 8, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    If im dcheduled to work a six hour day, am i entitled to one or two breaks. Assuming i didnt want to take a lunch?

    What about 7 hour day? One break and lunch? Or two breaks and a?lunch?


    • Eugene Lee on December 9, 2017 at 2:08 pm

      6 hour shift = one 10 min rest break
      >6 hour shift = two 10 min rest breaks

  16. Polly on December 7, 2017 at 6:13 am

    I have been at my current job for nearly 1 year. In this time I have NEVER recieved the required breaks, even though the ED knows that we are to receive them. She does not provide someone to cover me so I can leave the front desk. I often have to literally run to the bathroom and leave my post abandoned. Serveral times I didn’t even get my lunch. Almost every day, that I get my lunch it is well past the 6th hour. We are severely short staffed and I feel I am not being treated fairly. I was required to work on Saturday for at least 6 hours unpaid. And work overtime almost daily and forced to doctor my timecard so as to not pay us overtime. I don’t
    Know what to do. I need my job.

    • Eugene Lee on December 8, 2017 at 7:57 am

      Unfortunately, there are a LOT of employees in your same exact situation. Let’s not mince words – by not complying with wage laws, the employer is stealing your wages. You can choose to file an individual labor board claim, but that won’t be anonymous. Remember, an employer cannot punish or take action against you for filing a labor board claim. That would be illegal retaliation, permitting you to open up a separate retaliation lawsuit. However, if you prefer, you can make an anonymous report of wage violations to another division in the labor board, called the Bureau of Field Enforcement (BOFE). BOFE may then send an auditor to the job site to determine if any wage laws are being violated. If the auditor finds any violations, BOFE will then issue steep penalties to the company and could even order the company to shut down. However, you may not receive anywhere close to the full compensation you would receive by filing your own labor board claim.

  17. Teri Vernieri on December 6, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    1. We work four 10-hour days per week, M-Th. Is the timing of the meal break the same as an 8-hour employee, meaning meal break still needs to be taken before the end of the 5th hours of work, or can it come later in the shift? If an employee WANTS to take their lunch later, for instance, by the end of the 6th or 7th hour of work, would there be legal issues with this?

    Thank you for your help!

    • Eugene Lee on December 8, 2017 at 7:51 am

      The timing requirements for breaks remains the same. You have to start your first meal break before the END of the fifth hour into your shift, and your second meal break before the END of the tenth hour into your shift. An employee is free to take a late lunch or even waive it, provided their supervisor agrees to it. Employers are not required to police breaks or make sure employees take them, but employers have the right to if they want to.

  18. Jessica on December 6, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    By boss schedules me for a 9-6 shift. I’ve been taking my 30min(not payed) and two ten min breaks. She wants us to take an hour break not payed. Can she force us to take an hour lunch un payed when scheduled for 9 hours?

    • Eugene Lee on December 8, 2017 at 7:46 am

      Yes, but if it goes over 1 hour, it could entitle you to a split shift premium (depending on how much more than minimum wage you are being paid and how many hours you are scheduled to work that day). The law entitled to at least 30 minutes of unpaid meal breaks, but employers are free to increase that.

  19. Marilu on December 6, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    Is it legal if my boss is conditioning the rest breaks? For example, I cannot go to break until I finished certain task? Even tho its break time

    • Eugene Lee on December 8, 2017 at 7:44 am

      Yes and no. Yes, if you are definitely getting your rest break and it is reasonably close to the middle of each 4 hour work period. No, if later never comes and you never get to go on your rest break. Employers aren’t required by law to set specific daily break schedules, although they have the right to do so at their discretion. Since specific break schedules are discretionary, employers can alter them as well. However, if there is something in writing that says otherwise, like an employee manual, a union collective bargaining agreement, a policy, an offer letter, an employment agreement, etc., then the employer’s failure to let you go on your break per the written document could potentially be a “breach of contract”.

  20. Brian Shahon on December 6, 2017 at 6:16 am

    How early can the employer send an employee to their 30 minute meal break when the employee works a 10 hour shift?

    • Eugene Lee on December 8, 2017 at 7:41 am

      First, I want to point out that if work 10 hours or less, you only get 1 meal break, but if you are working MORE than 10 hours, you get a second meal break.

      Second, the California Supreme Court has stated in a 2012 case called Brinker that in an 8 hour shift, there needs to be 2 separate 10-minute paid rest breaks before AND after a 30-minute unpaid meal break. I think the same applies to a 10 hour shift. So while I don’t have a more specific answer for you, I think you can safely say that the meal break needs to occur after you have already taken your first 10-minute paid rest break.

  21. Gerardo on December 6, 2017 at 3:07 am

    Hi there, Those this apply to hotel night audit, I work at a hotel from 10 pm to 6 am, I work 8 hours straight, as a valet parking, when I started here they would pay my lunch because I’m always on duty, but now they want me to take my lunch and that’s ok, but if a guest comes I still have to help so usually I never get longer than 15 min without doing something, unless it is 3:30 am to 4:30am thats when everything slowdown but we still get guests that required service at that time. If I dont clocked out for lunch they do a correction and I have to approve it even though I didn’t take my lunch.

    • Eugene Lee on December 8, 2017 at 7:39 am

      Gerardo, I think you already know that what you’ve described is against the law. You must be relieved of all duty while on your lunch break. And if you are having to deal with guests while on lunch break, then you should not be punched out as you are working and need to be paid for that work. I recommend you bring the above up IN WRITING to your supervisors. If they don’t correct the problem, then you should consider filing a labor board claim.

  22. Melissa on December 5, 2017 at 1:18 am

    Is an employee allowed to leave job during 10 mins break or is it mandatory to stay inside during that timeframe?

    • Eugene Lee on December 5, 2017 at 7:20 pm

      The Labor Board has stated that the employer CAN require employees to stay on premises during their rest breaks, and that is because rest breaks are paid. However, a California court opinion, Augustus, et al. v. ABM Security Services, Inc, seems to suggest that an employer must “relinquish control” completely over employees during rest breaks and must not “tether” an employee to a particular location. Unfortunately, I don’t think Augustus really clears up this issue. Unless something changes, I would go with the Labor Board’s interpretation – an employer can require employees to stay on premises during paid rest breaks.

  23. Brandon on December 4, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    So i work in a bar and grill and i have been working there for 5 months plus, i work 8 or more hours a shift and never till this day have i ever recieved a 30 min break. They let us smoke a cig a couple times but if you take longer than 7 or mins they bitch. Do i have a case here at all?

    • Eugene Lee on December 5, 2017 at 7:39 pm

      Yes you do. If you work 8 hours, you must receive a 30-minute meal break and two 10-minute rest breaks, and nothing less than that. You should consider filing a labor board claim

  24. Shana on December 4, 2017 at 10:56 am

    I am an employer in the manufacturing industry – wage order 1. We produce a food product so employees are required to wear hairnets, wash their hands, and put on aprons before entering the processing floor. Is performing these tasks violating the “duty free” clause? Currently we require them to be ready to work by the end of that 10 minutes. I am wondering if we should be allowing them additional 1 or 2 minutes?

    • Eugene Lee on December 5, 2017 at 7:35 pm

      That area of the law is called “donning and doffing”. Prework activities that are essential to the job must be compensated. That includes putting on hairnets, washing hands and putting on aprons. Donning and doffing activities are compensable and the worker must be paid for that time. Since rest breaks must be duty free, I would tend to think you should allow them the additional time needed outside of the 10-minute rest break to don and doff.

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