Under California labor law, an employee who is non-exempt is entitled to meal and rest periods.  I discussed the difference between a non-exempt employee and an exempt employee in a prior blog; you can click here to read the entry in its entirety.  Briefly, a non-exempt employee is an hourly employee that must be paid overtime and must be given lunch and rest breaks.  Whereas, an exempt employee must be a professional, such as a doctor, lawyer, accountant, an exempt employee is a paid salary and the employer does not need to ensure that the exempt employee receives his or her meal and rest periods.


An employer is required to provide an employee a paid 10 minute uninterrupted rest period if the employee works 4 to 6 hours.  When the employee is on his or her break, s/he is allowed to leave the premises, make personal telephone calls and not perform any work.  The rest period should also occur as closely to the middle of the employee’s work shift as possible.  In the event that the employee is not given time to take a 10 minute uninterrupted rest period, the employee is entitled to one hour’s wage.

If the employee is scheduled to work 6 hours 1 minute up to 10 hours the employee is entitled to a second 10 minute uninterrupted rest period.  In the event that the employee is not given time to take a second rest period, the employee is entitled to one hour’s wage.  However, if an employee misses to rest periods in one shift, the employee is still only entitled to one hour’s wage as compensation, despite missing two breaks.

Below is a chart that sets forth the number of breaks an employee is entitled to based on the number of hours worked.

Number of Hours WorkedNumber of Rest Breaks
0 – 3 hrs. 29 mins.0
3:30 – 6 hrs.1
6:01 – 10 hrs.2
10:01 – 14 hr.3


Under California Labor Law, a non-exempt employee is entitled to at least a 30 minute lunch break when the employee has worked more than five hours.  Accordingly, an employee who is scheduled to work 8 hours, would be entitled to two paid 10-minute rest periods and one 30 minute lunch period.

Unlike the 10 minute rest periods, the employer is not required to pay the employee while on lunch break.  However, the employee is allowed to leave the employer’s premises, conduct personal business, not perform any work related activities.

It is important to understand that the employee has an affirmative duty to take his or her rest periods.  The employer only has to provide the employee with the opportunity to take a lunch, so if the employee fails to take lunch when given the opportunity to do so, the employee is not entitled any compensation for the missed meal period.  If you do not have time to take a lunch break during the day, you are entitled to one hour’s worth of wages for your missed lunch break.

An employee is allowed to waive his or her meal period if it done so in writing and signed by the employee.  The waiver must also state that the waiver can be revoked at any time by writing.  If, however, the employee is scheduled to work more than 6 hours, the employee cannot waive the meal period.

When an employee is on a meal break, the employee is allowed to leave the premises and perform personal errands.  The employee is not to perform any work related activities.

If you are an exempt employee, your employer is not legally required to provide you meal and rest periods.

If you have any questions about California’s meal and rest period laws, please contact the attorneys at The Rinka Law Firm, PC at 310-556-9653 and receive a free consultation.

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