Meal and Rest Break Laws: California

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Allie Blackham

Marketing Content Manager

As the nation’s most populous state with over 39 million residents, California also has complex labor regulations designed to protect the workforce. Understanding the laws around meal and rest breaks in California can help your business maintain compliance and avoid costly penalties. Explore the California meal and break regulations, including statewide requirements and individual city laws.

California Meal & Rest Breaks

The laws in California mandate multiple employee breaks, including for meals, recovery, and rest. Commission-based employees are also required to receive breaks.

Meal Breaks in California

All employers in California are required to give 30-minute unpaid breaks to nonexempt employees working 5+ hours in a day. Both the employer and employee may give written consent to waive a break if the employee works 6 hours or fewer.

Employees who work 10 hours or more during a day must receive a second unpaid meal break lasting 30 minutes. However, the employee can also choose to waive that break if the workday is less than 12 hours in total. Doing so also requires written consent from both parties.

Employers Failing to Provide Meal/Rest Breaks in California Must Pay for Additional Work Time

If an employer doesn’t provide the required meal breaks, they have to pay the employee for additional hour of work per day without a break. This hour of work must be paid at the employee’s standard hourly rate. For example, if an employee earning $20 per hour works for 7 hours without a break, they must receive an extra $20 for that workday.

Healthcare employees have additional regulations. Those in this industry who work 8 hours can choose to waive one of the two required meal breaks. This waiver must be documented and signed by both the employee and employer, and it may be revoked within one day notice. If the employee waives their second break, they must receive pay for all hours worked. A meal break should also fall no later than 5 hours into a shift. They are not required to be scheduled at 5-hour increments.

  • 5+ hours: 30-minute unpaid break
  • 6 hours: Break can be waived by mutual consent
  • 10+ hours : Two 30-minute meal breaks during the shift
  • 12 hours: Second break may be waived by mutual consent
  • Healthcare employees can waive their second meal break if working more than 8 hours

Additional clarifications have been issued by the California Supreme Court regarding state meal and break laws. Employers are not obligated to confirm that an employee isn’t working. And while California does require premium pay to be paid by employers that deny meal breaks, voluntary work performed by an employee during their meal break doesn’t create a liability to receive premium pay. But the employer may be responsible to pay the employee at the regular rate of pay, if they reasonably should have known or knew that the employee worked during their break.

California Rest Breaks

Employers in California are also required to give nonexempt employees rest breaks in the middle of a shift, if possible. The length is 10 consecutive minutes for every 4 hours worked. An employee working a shift fraction lasting 2+ hours, they are required to get a break. These rest breaks should be paid, but employers can’t require employees to remain on the work premises.

Additionally, employers must provide an area to take a break that is not a restroom. Those who work in extreme weather conditions must receive an additional 5 minutes per break that can be spent in a protected atmosphere.

Meal/Rest Breaks for California Commission Employees

Commission employees in California are eligible for a separate rest period pay schedule. Based on the commission agreement, the compensation plan should include separate pay for breaks (or rest periods), or it will not be compliant with state law.

Employers tracking the work hours of commission employees and paying an hourly wage as an advance of a future commission are also violating state law. Rest periods cannot be part of the “advance of wages” issued to a commission-based employee.

Day of Rest Requirements in California

A day of rest is also required in California. Employees are entitled to receive 1 day of rest for every 7 days worked, or one day per workweek. However, employees working 30 or fewer hours in a week and 6 hours or fewer in a day are not required to receive a day of rest.

This regulation also allows California employees to work more than 6 consecutive days as long as they span more than one single workweek.

San Francisco Lactation Accommodation

In San Francisco, nursing mothers are required to receive “reasonable time” to express breast milk. It can run concurrently to any other required rest breaks. If an employee needs additional time, it can be unpaid.

This regulation also requires employers to provide a lactation area that’s accessible from the employee’s workspace. It cannot be a restroom, and it must include a sink with running water and a refrigerator. The lactation area must be private and free from intrusion from the public and coworkers.


Need help tracking meals and rest breaks in California? WorkforceHub has all the functionality needed to maintain compliance and keep a close eye on breaks taken by your workforce. Take a closer look at the system and how it can protect your company and employees.

View the full meal and break guide with state-by-state regulations.

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