Free Attorney Consultation

California Meal Break & Rest Break Laws


California meal and rest break laws are essential protections for employees. These laws govern the rights of non-exempt workers to receive meal breaks and rest periods during their work hours.

Regulated by the California Labor Code (CLC) and Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) Wage Orders, California lunch and rest break laws aim to prevent exploitation, promote well-being, and maintain fair labor practices.

Understanding your rights under these regulations can help you hold your employer accountable if they engage in illegal work environment activities.

California Meal Break Law Chart

Hours on the clock Meal Breaks
0 – 5 hrs 0
5:01 – 10 hrs 1
10:01 – 15 hrs 2
15:01 – 20 hrs 3
20:01 – 4

What are the California Lunch Break Laws?

Under sections 226.7(a) and 512, the state’s labor law provides certain rights and protections for employees regarding lunch breaks in California. Under the law, employees are entitled to a meal break of at least 30 minutes if they work more than 5 hours in a workday.

For shifts lasting more than 10 hours, employees must receive a second meal break of at least 30 minutes. Employees must be relieved of all work duties during these meal breaks and be free to leave their work area.

If an employer fails to provide the required meal breaks, they may be required to pay the employee an additional hour of wages per day as a penalty. However, if the nature of the work prevents the employee from taking a meal break, they may waive it voluntarily, but this should be documented.

California Meal Break Law Chart

Hours on the clock Meal Breaks
0 – 3:29 hrs 0
3:30 – 6 hrs 1
6:01 – 10 hrs 2
10:01 – 14 hrs 3
14:01 – 18 hrs 4
18:01 – 22 hrs 5

Are California Rest Break Laws Different From Lunch Break Laws?

In addition to lunch break laws, which govern how long employers must allow meals during an employee’s shift, California has rest break laws. These can also be found in Section 226.7 of the CLC.

These regulations state that non-exempt employees are entitled to a 10-minute paid rest break for every 4 hours worked or major fraction thereof. The term “major fraction” typically means any amount of time exceeding two hours, ensuring that employees can take regular breaks to rest and recuperate during their workday.

Exceptions to California Work Break Laws

California work break laws include certain exceptions to the general meal and rest breaks requirements. The exceptions accommodate industry-specific needs and ensure that negotiated agreements between employers and unions are respected.

  • Wholesale baking industry: Under section 512(c) in the CLC, employees in the wholesale baking industry covered by a valid collective bargaining agreement who work 35 hours per week (five days of seven hours each) will be paid 1.5 times their regular wage for any hours over 7 in a day, and have a 10-minute rest break every 2 hours.
  • Entertainment industry: Under a valid collective bargaining agreement, employees in the motion picture or broadcasting industries may have specific meal period provisions that replace the standard rules.
  • Miscellaneous rules: Some employees specified in subdivision (f), such as those in the construction, commercial driving, or security services industry, may be exempt from certain break laws if a valid collective bargaining agreement covers them. This agreement must explicitly outline the following elements:
    • Wages
    • Working Hours
    • Meal Periods
    • Arbitration Processes
    • Overtime pay rates
    • Regular hourly rate of at least 30% more than the state minimum wage rate

What Happens if My Employer Violates Rest or Lunch Break Laws in California?

Ensuring employees receive their entitled breaks is a crucial aspect of California labor law. Unfortunately, some employers fail to comply with these laws and violate lunch break laws in California.

Legal Consequences of Lunch Break Violations

Employers who fail to provide employees with the required meal breaks are subject to legal consequences under the California Labor Code.

The law stipulates that if an employer violates the meal break requirements, they must compensate the affected employee with an additional hour of wages at their regular rate. This extra payment, known as “meal break premium pay,” is a penalty for the employer’s non-compliance.

In addition to the meal break premium pay, employers may also face fines and penalties imposed by the California Labor Commissioner for violating labor laws related to meal breaks. The Labor Commissioner has the authority to investigate complaints filed by employees and take appropriate actions against employers who are found to have violated these laws.

Civil Claims for Lunch Break Violations

In addition to the statutory penalties imposed by the state, employees have the right to pursue civil claims against their employers for lunch break violations. This can include filing a complaint with the California Labor Commissioner or pursuing a private lawsuit in court to assert their rights.

These civil claims may include seeking compensation for unpaid wages, including premium pay for missed meal breaks, as well as other damages caused by the lack of breaks, such as health issues resulting from excessive work hours without adequate rest.

Engaging in a civil claim not only seeks appropriate compensation for the affected employees but also sends a strong message to employers about the importance of adhering to lunch break laws and respecting workers’ rights.

Steps to Take if Your Employer Violates California Labor Laws

Discovering that your employer is violating labor laws can be upsetting, but taking action to protect your rights and seek appropriate remedies is essential. If you believe your employer is not complying with California labor laws, follow these steps to address the issue and seek a resolution:

  • Gather evidence: Document labor law violations, such as missed meal breaks, unpaid overtime, or denial of rest breaks. Keep records of work hours, schedules, and any communication with your employer regarding these issues.
  • Know your rights: Familiarize yourself with the specific labor laws relevant to your situation, such as meal and rest break requirements, overtime pay, and minimum wage regulations. Understanding your rights will empower you to advocate for fair treatment.
  • Address the issue with your employer: Initiate a conversation with your employer to address your concerns. Present your evidence and discuss the specific violations you believe have occurred. Your employer may rectify the situation once made aware of the issue.
  • File a complaint with the labor commissioner: If addressing the matter directly with your employer doesn’t resolve the problem, file a formal complaint with the California Labor Commissioner. The commissioner’s office can investigate the matter and take appropriate action against the employer if violations are found.
  • Consult an employment attorney: Consider seeking legal advice from an experienced employment attorney. They can evaluate your case, explain your rights, and guide you through the legal process if necessary.
  • Keep records of retaliation: If you face retaliation from your employer for raising concerns or filing a complaint, document these incidents. Retaliation is illegal and can lead to additional claims against your employer.
  • File a lawsuit: If all other avenues fail to resolve the issue, you may consider filing a lawsuit against your employer. An employment attorney can assist you in pursuing legal action and seeking appropriate remedies for labor law violations.
  • Cooperate with investigations: If government agencies, such as the Labor Commissioner’s office or the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), conduct investigations based on your complaint, cooperate fully with them and provide any necessary information or testimony.

Protect Your Rights Under Break and Lunch Laws in California

As an employee in California, you have the right to take meal breaks and rest periods during your work hours. Your employer must comply with the state’s labor laws so you receive the necessary breaks to maintain your health and well-being.

If you are deprived of these essential breaks, you can hold your employer accountable by reporting them to the California Labor Commissioner or filing a civil claim to protect your rights and seek appropriate compensation. By standing up for your rights, you safeguard your own well-being and contribute to a fair and equitable work environment for all employees.


Can you work 6 hours without a lunch break in the state of California?

In California, if you work 6 hours or more, you are entitled to a 30-minute unpaid meal break. However, this break can be waived by mutual agreement between you and your employer if the total workday is no more than 6 hours.

How many hours can I work without a lunch break in California?

You can only work 5 hours or less without a lunch break in California. You are only entitled to a 30-minute break if you work 6 hours or more.

Can I waive my lunch break in California if I work 8 hours?

Yes, if you work 8 hours in California, you are entitled to a 30-minute meal break. However, you can voluntarily waive this meal break if your employer agrees, but you must document this agreement to protect your rights and avoid potential issues later.


Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.