Exempt employees are a vital part of the economy in California, which is why the state goes to great lengths to protect the rights and privileges of workers. Unfortunately, many employers seek to take advantage of their employees, particularly hourly employees, by trying to manipulate shift times, asking them to work off the clock, and denying rightful meal and break times. However, if an employer does not honor the laws and regulations to which you are entitled, you have the right to seek legal avenues to collect on damages owed to you because of such infractions.
Knowing the laws for meals while working can help empower you to hold your employer accountable. It can also ensure that you receive your earned meal and rest breaks and that all your rights as an employee are protected.
Rest Break Requirements
State law requires that employers provide rest time for their employees while they are working. The number of breaks provided is dependent on the number of consecutive hours that an employee works. Rest breaks are provided according to the following schedule:
- Less than 3.5 hours, zero breaks
- 5 hours to 6 hours, 1 break
- 6 hours to 10 hours, 2 breaks
- 10 hours to 14 hours, 3 breaks
- 14 hours to 18 hours, 4 breaks
- 18 hours to 22 hours, 5 breaks
A break is defined as 10 consecutive minutes that are uninterrupted. In addition, employee breaks must:
- Be paid time
- Be separate time from any meal breaks
- Be to the greatest extent possible provided in the middle of a shift and not at the beginning or end
- Not be enforced to be taken on company property
- Be free from any job responsibilities for the entirety of the break
While employers are required to provide this time to you, they cannot enforce the taking of them. Therefore, an employee must choose to utilize this time. If, however, an employer does specifically schedule break times and you refuse, you could be subject to discipline or termination.
Meal Break Requirements
In addition to mandatory rest breaks, state law requires employers to provide meal breaks as well. Like rest breaks, the number of meals you are allowed to take during a shift is dependent on the number of consecutive hours that you work. Meal breaks are provided along the following guidelines:
- Less than 5 hours, no meal break
- 5 hours to 10 hours, 1 meal break
- 10 hours to 15 hours, 2 meal breaks
- 15 hours to 20 hours, 3 meal breaks
- More than 20 hours, 4 meal breaks
Meal breaks are a little more tricky than rest breaks because there are more stipulations that must be followed. If you qualify for a meal break, you must be given 30 minutes of meal time that must be taken before the end of the fifth hour of your shift. In addition, meal breaks may be waived in an agreement with your employer if your shift is less than 6 hours. Another agreement that you and your employer can make is to take your meal while working. If you choose to do so, you will be paid during this time, and it counts towards your total hours worked. Other guidelines for meal breaks include:
- Like your first meal break, if you work a 10-hour shift, you must also start the meal before the end of the 10th hour of work, and the same agreements may be made with your employer.
- Meal breaks are unpaid, off-the-clock amounts of time.
- You are allowed to leave company property and spend that time as you wish because it is unpaid.
- Meal time is uninterrupted and free from job responsibilities unless you and your employer have agreed to an “on-the-clock” meal.
- Employers do not have to schedule your meal. In 2012, it became the responsibility of the employee to break themselves and ensure that they receive the time that they are entitled to.
Meal breaks and rest breaks are separate and should be treated as such. They should not run consecutively. In other words, you should not be told to take a 40-minute lunch and that it counts as both your meal and rest break combined.
Some industries have unique needs that may impact some of these regulations. However, any policies that are industry specific should be provided to you through any employee information materials that you may receive at the time of hiring.
Like rest breaks, you are not required to use this time. However, if it is scheduled, and you refuse to take it, you could be subject to discipline or termination.
Q: What Is the Meal Break Law in California in 2023?
A: Meal break laws require employers to provide a 30-minute, duty-free meal time for employees who work a minimum of 5 consecutive hours. The number of breaks depends on the number of hours worked. An employee may waive this meal, or take the meal while still working, but it must be agreed upon with their employer.
Q: What Is the Law for Meal and Rest Breaks in California?
A: Employers must provide their exempt employees with both meal and rest breaks. The exact amount of these breaks is determined by the number of consecutive hours that they work in a shift. Both meal and rest breaks may be waived by the employee unless the employer specifically scheduled the time into the shift.
Q: How Many Breaks Do You Get in an 8-Hour Shift in California?
A: Exempt employees who work an 8-hour shift are entitled to two breaks and 1 meal during their shift. The times may not overlap and should not be taken in one consecutive amount of time. Both breaks should be on the clock and duty-free for 10 minutes each. The meal break should be taken no later than the fifth hour of a shift. It must be off the clock while remaining duty-free.
Q: Can I Work 6 Hours Without a Lunch Break in California?
A: Unless your employer specifically schedules time in your shift for a lunch break, you may waive your right to a meal if your shift is only 6 hours. If your employer schedules a specific time for it, you could face disciplinary action up to and including termination if you choose to ignore the schedule provided.
California Employment Attorney
If your rights as an employee have been violated, and your employer is not providing you with what you are entitled to, you have the right to pursue legal action against them. If you have questions about a potential employment law violation, contact the Law Offices of Corbett H. Williams and let our experienced and skilled employment lawyer protect your rights.