Understanding Meal and Rest Break Requirements: A Guide for California Employers

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Meal and rest break requirements are an essential aspect of California labor law. As an employer in the state, it is crucial to understand and comply with these regulations to maintain legal compliance and minimize liability for wage-and-hour violations. In this article, we will review the meal and rest break requirements mandated by California labor laws and how employers can ensure compliance within their organizations.

Meal Break Requirements

Under California labor law, employers must provide meal breaks to non-exempt employees who work for a certain duration in a single workday. Non-exempt employees are those who are entitled to overtime pay and are typically paid on an hourly basis.

Under California Labor Code Section 512, if an employee works more than five hours in a workday, they are entitled to a 30-minute uninterrupted, unpaid meal break. This break must be provided no later than the end of the employee’s fifth hour of work. The first meal break may only be waived if the shift is less than 6 hours long. If an employee works more than ten hours in a workday, they are entitled to a second 30-minute meal break. However, this second meal break can be waived if the total work hours do not exceed 12 hours and the first meal break was provided.

During meal breaks, employees must be fully relieved of their job duties and be free to leave the workplace premises. It is critical to ensure that employees are not under any pressure or obligation to work during these breaks.

Rest Break Requirements

In addition to meal breaks, employers in California must provide rest breaks to non-exempt employees. Rest breaks are shorter, paid breaks given during the workday to provide employees with a moment of rest and relaxation.

As per California Labor Code Section 226.7, employees are entitled to a 10-minute paid rest break for every four hours worked or a major fraction thereof. These rest breaks should be provided as close to the middle of the work period as possible. For example, if an employee works a 9-hour shift, they would be entitled to two 10-minute rest breaks.

As with meal breaks, employers must ensure that employees are relieved of all job-related duties during rest breaks. Employees should be encouraged to use this break for rest, personal activities, or grabbing a snack.

Compliance and Consequences

Compliance with meal and rest break requirements is crucial for California employers. Failure to provide mandated breaks or interfering with employees’ rights to take breaks can lead to legal consequences, including potential lawsuits and significant monetary penalties.

To ensure compliance, employers should establish clear, written policies outlining meal and rest break requirements and communicate them to all employees. Managers and supervisors should be trained on break policies to ensure consistent enforcement. It is also essential to maintain accurate records of meal breaks taken by employees to demonstrate compliance if required.


Understanding and complying with meal and rest break requirements is vital for California employers, both for legal compliance reasons and to support the well-being and productivity of employees. By familiarizing themselves with the relevant labor laws, establishing proper policies, and effectively communicating them to employees, employers can ensure compliance and foster a positive work environment that values the health and rights of their workforce.

For more information on meal and rest breaks and how to ensure your business is compliant with state laws, please contact us at info@mnklawyers.com.

This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between MNK Law and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material.