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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 (or “major fraction” thereof). 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 not 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

1,989 Comments

  1. Anonymous on May 25, 2018 at 4:36 am

    So I work from 7:30-4:00 if I work 10 hours after my 8 hours I should get a second 30 min break before heading to the extra 2 hours right? Now that 30 min should be paid as time worked!? Cuz right now our boss tells us in order to have the 2 hours as overtime we have to say till 6;30 thoughts ? Please

    • JD on May 26, 2018 at 4:34 pm

      If you work 730-630 you should get 2 paid 30 minute meal periods. The meal periods are unpaid, off the clock. That would be 10 hours paid, 2 of which would be overtime.

  2. Tina Alcantara on May 24, 2018 at 9:12 pm

    I work noc shift, 11p.m until 7-30a.m at a 6 bed board and care. My boss pays me 8.5 regular hours because I work alone and cannot leave the premises. Is that legal? I take breaks throughout my shift when I have down time and my boss is okay with that.

  3. Candice R on May 24, 2018 at 10:50 am

    Hi Eugene,

    I work in the healthcare industry in Los Angeles, California, I know the article specifically stipulates HEALTHCARE might be an exception of these rules. Can you please site a reference specifically geared towards the Healthcare field? I am unable to locate anything, and what I do find is seemingly outdated, and not showing much change.

  4. edward aguilar on May 23, 2018 at 10:31 pm

    is there a required amount of hours in between shifts that a employer can schedule you from one shift to the next example I get off of work at 730am and have to work the same day 3pm .

  5. WARREN SMITH on May 23, 2018 at 7:43 pm

    I was working for a construction company i quit but through a temp agency that duting a 8 hour work day only gave us one 40 minute break through the whole day. From what I’m understanding I was entitled to two ten minute breaks and 30 minute break so this company was shorting me a ten minute break everyday the whole entire time i was working there is that correct?

  6. Chris on May 23, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    Question about the 5th hour Lunch break and PTO. At my job they require some people to stay while others go to lunch I worked sometimes 6 to 6 and a half hours before I was able to receive my lunch is that legal? and as far as PTO the haven’t paid out 2017’s PTO

  7. sean on May 21, 2018 at 12:57 pm

    My work business hours start at 7:30 am, and ends at 5pm monday thru friday.

    our break schedule is as follows.

    30 min break from 10:30 to 11

    non paid lunch from 1 to 2 pm

    is that correct by law?

    • Wendy on May 22, 2018 at 9:42 am

      Same question as above but:
      7am – Star Work
      9am-9:20 Break
      12pm-1pm Lunch
      4pm – End Work
      Does the 20 min substitute for 2-10 minute break or an additional one is needed in the afternoon?

      • John on May 22, 2018 at 9:55 pm

        The 20 minute break is GREAT in the morning, but it DOES NOT make up for having NO BREAK in the afternoon. You should ask your boss to split that break up and give you a break from 2:30 to 2:40.

    • Allen on May 23, 2018 at 1:35 pm

      Sean ask him to split your breaks in two so you take a 15 in the morning and a 15 after lunch

  8. Albert on May 21, 2018 at 10:29 am

    My previous Employer paid me a additional hour, but I still had to click out for my lunch, stay on the premises, and i was interrupted on almost every everytime to take care of manager only responsibilities only. Was this a violation of the Ca meal policy?

  9. Jason on May 18, 2018 at 1:00 pm

    My job made me take my 30 minute lunch but takes 30 minutes just to walk down to go bathroom this is bull shit aren’t they breaking the law. Security industry?

  10. A on May 18, 2018 at 3:11 am

    So I work at mcdonalds and there was a whole confusion that of you work 6.5 or 7 hours you don’t get a second rest break. 1) So, if I work 6 hours total, including the meal break, do I get one or 2 rest breaks? 2) if I work 6.5 or 3) 7 hours incl. Meal break do I get one or 2 rest breaks?

  11. Melinda on May 17, 2018 at 10:04 pm

    I worked 12 hours shift and doesnt get a break at all. I was told by senior staff that since we dont get a break we are allowed to leave 30 mins early to compensate for the lunch break. I thought if you 12 hour shift you are supposed to get two 30 mins break and another 15min brea. Pls clarify,thanks

  12. Sharon Morse on May 17, 2018 at 9:46 pm

    I work at a hospital in San Francisco as an OR nurse. I work the relief shift 9am-730pm. I come in and give breaks but I also come in at 9am on some days a take over a room. The charge nurse will send my lunch relief person to give me a lunch break at 1240 when I havent been on the clock but 31/2 hours in a 10 hour work day. I’m getting lunch when I havent even taken my morning break. This is a constant problem and I dont no what to do.

  13. Claudia on May 17, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    I work at a childcare learning center and I was told that after our first hour we can get our break.

  14. Saar Almog on May 17, 2018 at 7:09 pm

    can they legally make you work seven hours straight to leave an hour early instead of taking an hour lunch. I work fr a property group in California.

    • Eugene Lee on May 17, 2018 at 7:11 pm

      No, the employer can’t make you do that. That is a meal break violation, entitling you to 1 hour of meal break penalties for each day that happened. You should consider filing labor board complaint

  15. Maritess on May 17, 2018 at 3:45 pm

    Can my company force. E to take an hour lunch break even though I only work 8 hours a day? I think it should be my decision to do that especially if the are not paying me while I’m on lunch

    • Eugene Lee on May 17, 2018 at 7:15 pm

      Yes, the employer has the right to set your work schedule and break schedule, assuming there isn’t something in writing that says otherwise.

  16. Randal on May 16, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    About the 5th hour thing. If I start work at 9 am, is my 5th hour from 1 to 2 or from 2 to 3? I know if I work from 9 to 2 it is 5 hours. Please help me clarify.

    • Eugene Lee on May 17, 2018 at 7:16 pm

      The fifth hour ends at 2 pm, so you must be permitted to start your lunch break before 2 pm. And yes, it is confusing.

      • Joy on May 25, 2018 at 11:55 am

        Piggy backing on the above question, if the lunch break was scheduled for 2:00 pm but the employee did not clock out until 2:15, do they get overtime for that 15 minutes as it is beyond the 5 hour limit?

  17. Student employee on May 16, 2018 at 9:46 am

    My work hours are anywhere between 3-5 hours and I am a student. I get 10 minute breaks on all days irrespective of the hours worked. My employer is reconsidering our breaks as he feels that we should get a break only if we work for 4 hours or more. Is he correct?

    • Eugene Lee on May 17, 2018 at 7:19 pm

      No he’s not correct. What the law states is you are entitled to take a 10-min paid rest break for every 4 hours worked “OR MAJOR FRACTION THEREOF”. Courts have interpreted that last part to mean that, if you work more than 3.5 hours, you must get one rest break, if you work more than 6 hours, you must get a second rest break, etc.

  18. CP on May 14, 2018 at 3:54 pm

    Since breaks are paid, I thought an employer can make the employee stay on site. That is listed on the Ca. Gov website.

    FAQ #5

    • Eugene Lee on May 17, 2018 at 7:20 pm

      That FAQ has been updated due to a Supreme Court decision that states that employees must be free of employer control during breaks, and permitted to leave the premises. You may be looking at an old version of the FAQ.

  19. Ken on May 14, 2018 at 1:59 pm

    Hi, Working at a small, privately owned, movie theater in the tri-valley area of CA.
    Does the law requiring paid 10-minute breaks and the unpaid half-hour break apply to us?

    • Eugene Lee on May 17, 2018 at 7:20 pm

      It should. The issue is whether you are an exempt or non-exempt employee. If you are non-exempt, then you are entitled to those breaks.

  20. Paul on May 14, 2018 at 11:05 am

    Hi. I work at a small family restaurant. Some of the shifts are 11-5pm, and no official breaks are given. I notified my boss that he should give the employees a break and he replied saying that employees take breaks all the time. He said, “I talked to my lawyer and he said that when an employee drinks water, goes out to smoke, or chit chats with a coworker, that is considered a break.” Just want to confirm.. Does this exempt employees from taking their official breaks?

    • Eugene Lee on May 17, 2018 at 7:24 pm

      In 2012, the California Supreme Court changed the law on breaks – saying that it is no longer the employer’s responsibility to break employees, but rather, employees must break themselves. So the notion of “official breaks” is no longer legally required. I’d say that what the employer’s lawyer told the employer is pretty consistent with how the labor board enforces breaks. However, if you’re being interrupted while on a 10-minute break, that could become an employer violation depending on a number of factors. If in doubt, you could consider filing a labor board complaint

  21. Joe Palazi on May 14, 2018 at 9:48 am

    We changed schedule at my work here in California, the new schedule is 9 to 5 so my manager told us that we will take 30 min unpaid lunch as well as two 15 min unpaid break one in the morning and the other one in the afternoon
    Is it legal to make employees clock out for break. Please let me know thank you.

    • Eugene Lee on May 17, 2018 at 7:27 pm

      Employers are required to have employees clock out for meal breaks. It isn’t required for rest breaks, but certainly permissible. The issue is whether rest breaks are being DEDUCTED from your pay. If you are being PAID for rest breaks, then the employer isn’t breaking the law, EVEN if he is requiring you to clock out for them. The employer could just be doing that for recordkeeping purposes.

      • Joe Palazi on May 21, 2018 at 2:32 am

        No they are not paying for rest brake claiming it is a one hour lunch break that is taken apart, so we complained, now manager has changed it to as follows 45 min lunch brake and 15 min break unpaid clock out and in. And a 10 min break that is paid is that still legal.

  22. Nahui Gonzalez Millan on May 13, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    Hi, I was confused about the breaks. My boss told us that if we work 8 hours and thirty minutes, then that’s when we’re entitled to two 10 minute breaks and a lunc h, since the lunch takes out the other 30 minutes of our shift. So if I work from 9:30-6, I get both breaks and the lunch. But if I work from 10-6, I get one break and the lunch break. Is this right? Because I read that of you work over 6 hours than you’re entitled to two breaks.

    • Eugene Lee on May 17, 2018 at 7:28 pm

      No your boss isn’t correct. What the law states is you are entitled to take a 10-min paid rest break for every 4 hours worked “OR MAJOR FRACTION THEREOF”. Courts have interpreted that last part to mean that, if you work more than 3.5 hours, you must get one rest break, if you work more than 6 hours, you must get a second rest break, etc. Your boss if focusing on the “every 4 hours worked” part, but he’s not considering the “major fraction thereof” part, that’s the problem.

  23. Concerned on May 12, 2018 at 9:57 am

    I work 8 hrs. a day 5 days a week. I only get one 30 min. unpaid lunch break….is this legal in Ohio?

    • Eugene Lee on May 13, 2018 at 9:20 am

      Every state has different laws on meal and rest breaks. Most states don’t require them. Ohio, from what I understand is unfortunately one of those states. However, there are always exceptions specific to certain locales and industries. So I think you should contact an Ohio employment attorney and run your situation by them. Most lawyers give free initial consultations. Good luck!

  24. Silveria Arrizón on May 11, 2018 at 10:15 am

    To whom it may concern:
    What is the correct length of time in California for rest breaks? I have heard and read 10, 15 and 20 -minutes are used as rest breaks. Can you please set me straight? I hope to hear from you, as I need this verification for a social science research report I am doing in college.
    Thank you for your time.

    • Eugene Lee on May 13, 2018 at 9:21 am

      In the State of California, paid rest breaks must be at least 10 minutes in duration (and must be uninterrupted, free of work duty, and permitted to be taken anywhere on or off premises). Employers have discretion to offer longer rest breaks if they wish, but not less than 10 minutes. Good luck with your research report.

      • Silveria Arrizón on May 14, 2018 at 11:12 pm

        Dear Mr. Lee:

        You are “the bomb!” Thank you for replying to my question in such a timely manner.

        I have another question: I have a sibling working in a fast food establishment in Sacramento, California. She informed me her employer made her pay for the uniform and the slip-proof shoes she must wear on the job. I read on a website that this practice of expecting an employee to purchase his/her own uniform is not only cheap, but against the law. Is this true? If so what are her options? If she were to have complained about this extra expense, she’d be fired– no doubt. Thank you in advance.

  25. Randal on May 11, 2018 at 10:07 am

    About the 5th hour thing. If I start work at 9 am, is my 5th hour from 1 to 2 or from 2 to 3? I know if I work from 9 to 2 it is 5 hours. Please help me clarify.

    • Eugene Lee on May 17, 2018 at 7:29 pm

      The fifth hour is from 1 pm to 2 pm. So your lunch break must start before 2 pm, as that would be the end of the fifth hour.

  26. Walter on May 10, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    Does this apply at nail salons ?

  27. ashley on May 10, 2018 at 9:11 am

    I work 4 day 10 hrs shifts, what are the laws on how long my lunch should be? Can i get two 30 min meal breaks or only one? They give me a 30 min lunch but it is not included in the 10 hrs work day. i work 7:30am to 6pm. Is my 30 min lunch supose to be included within the 10 hrs work day?

    • Eugene Lee on May 10, 2018 at 10:20 pm

      If you work over 10 hrs, you must get 2 30-min unpaid meal breaks and 3 10-min paid rest breaks. If you work 10 hours or less, then it is 1 30-min meal break and 2 10-min rest breaks.

  28. Jay on May 10, 2018 at 9:09 am

    Do your employer have to give you 2 15 minute breaks if you work 8 hours and have to click out for 30 minute break? We have to take 10 minutes but I feel that it isnt right especially if we click out for lunch

    • Eugene Lee on May 10, 2018 at 10:21 pm

      If you work 8 hours, you must get 2 10-min paid rest breaks. Those are in ADDITION to your 30-min meal break.

  29. Olga l Gomez on May 9, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    My daughter worked at a 7 eleven store. The Manager has them work 8 hours straight by themselves, they stick, clean and don’t get breaks or lunch breaks. She worked 8 hours straight. They have 3 shift and only 1 employee for each shift. This Manager doesn’t want to put 2 employees on each shift to be able to cover lunch breaks. She could not even take bathroom breaks.

    • kathy on May 10, 2018 at 3:28 pm

      She is entitled to 1 hour of pay for each day she did not take a lunch. Also if she takes it to labor board she will be entitled late penalties. It’s the law to be able to take lunch.

      • Eugene Lee on May 10, 2018 at 10:23 pm

        Kathy’s right. And also, one additional hour of pay for each day she was denied a rest break. You should consider filing labor board complaint.

  30. Janet B on May 9, 2018 at 7:44 am

    What are the exceptions to this in regards to working in the construction field

    • Eugene Lee on May 10, 2018 at 10:22 pm

      One example – in certain cases, the first rest break can be combined with the meal break. But there must still be a separate second rest break if you work over 6 hours.

    • Eugene Lee on May 10, 2018 at 10:22 pm

      One example – in certain cases, the first rest break can be combined with the meal break. But there must still be a separate second rest break if you work over 6 hours.

  31. Nickie on May 8, 2018 at 4:01 pm

    I was recently told by a labor attorney that lunches needed to start BEFORE the 5th hour of work but above it states “before the END of the fifth hour.” Can someone please let me know which it is?

    • Eugene Lee on May 8, 2018 at 6:04 pm

      Before the END of the fifth hour is correct. Another way to say it is, before the START of the sixth hour.

  32. John on May 8, 2018 at 9:48 am

    My employees are non-exempt and they sometimes will work a solid 6 hours so they can leave early or use personal time to take care of something. Should they be taking a meal break or can they waive this break to leave the office earlier than normal?

    • kathy on May 10, 2018 at 3:32 pm

      A full solid 6 hours is okay as long as you and the employee agree. Anything over 6 hours they have to take at least a 30 minute lunch. If more than 6 hours you will then have to pay them 1 hour of pay for not taking their lunch.

  33. Anon on May 7, 2018 at 8:49 pm

    My employer tells me I can’t take breaks at certain times of the day. Is this legal?

    • Eugene Lee on May 13, 2018 at 9:23 am

      Yes, the employer can set the daily work and break schedule, so long as they are allowing you sufficient time and opportunity to take all of your legally-required meal and rest breaks. But if they refuse your request and say, “later on you can take it” and “later on” never comes, then your employer is breaking the law.

  34. CHACH NGOV on May 4, 2018 at 11:22 am

    I found out my employer did not pay for the hours I worked when I went back to audit my hours in 2017 of May. I told the payroll dept, they said they can’t do anything since I should be my responsibility to check the time card. At the time I submitted time corrections but were not entered. What is my legal right on this. I had 4 regular working hours and 7 overtime working hours unpaid in 2017.

    • Eugene Lee on May 13, 2018 at 9:25 am

      No that is not legal. Your employer must issue a corrective paycheck to you for the hours you were not paid for, including overtime. The statute of limitations for unpaid regular pay is 2 years (unless you have a written agreement on your payrate, in which case it is 4 years). For overtime pay, it is 3 years. But if your employer doesn’t fix this, you should not wait, you should file a labor board claim.

  35. Pam Schubert on May 3, 2018 at 9:39 am

    Who’s responsibility is it to notify HR/payroll that I started my lunch break later than my 5th hour.?
    My company has a form that we fill out, but if payroll does not receive it or they “lose” it, they don’t pay me the ‘ penalty hour’.( we give it to the manager who supposedly takes it to HR/payroll)
    If we forget to fill out the form each day, we forfeit the penalty hour.
    Also, since we punch a time card, it is obvious and documented that we started our lunch later than the 5th hour.

  36. Anonymous on May 2, 2018 at 6:56 pm

    maybe somebody can answer this question. I start working at 6 am And my boss is making me take my half an hour lunch at 7:15 a.m. to 7:45. And then I take my ten minute break at 12:20 can she do that?

    • Toni on May 7, 2018 at 9:47 am

      NOOO! 10 min break after the first 2 hours and a unpaid 30 minute lunch break BEFORE the fifth hour of work.

      • Peter on May 7, 2018 at 5:17 pm

        Can you provide the specific code that states this? I’mhaving the same problem.

  37. tom hightower on May 2, 2018 at 9:02 am

    can i sing a waver to take my lunch break after 6 hours of work as it fits in to my company production

  38. Anonomus on April 30, 2018 at 4:58 pm

    My husband started a new job today he said that they give them no paid breaks and they have to take an hour lunch which is not paid. I’m wondering if it is like I thought it was when I was working. where you work two hours take a break work two more hours take your lunch then work two more hours take another break work two more hours to go home that’s how we did it every job I ever had but the way that it’s worded in this article makes me second-guess the actual technical aspects of it because it says “4 hours worked” so does that mean he has to work four hours before he gets a break ?

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