Fred Geonetta
By: Fred Geonetta

Are California Workers Entitled to a Lunch Break?

Meal and rest breaks are at the center of a great deal of employee complaints and litigation in California. Partly, this is because employers don’t fully understand the law for break time, and in other cases, the employer fully understands the laws and chooses to break them anyway.

Under California State law, rest breaks and meal breaks must be provided to non-exempt employees at certain periods throughout the day. How many breaks an employee is entitled to is dependent upon the length of the shift that’s being worked and whether or not they have already taken or waived certain breaks.

In California, nonexempt employees must receive an unpaid, off-duty meal break lasting at least 30 minutes for a shift lasting five hours. This first lunch break must be provided to the employee by the end of the fifth hour of the employee’s shift. If the employee worked less than five hours in their workday, they are not legally entitled to a 30-minute meal break.

If you work between 10 hours and 15 hours, you are entitled to two unpaid meal breaks. Those who work a shift of 15 to 20 hours are entitled to 3 unpaid, off-duty meal breaks.

Under the law, you should be allowed to take your meal break off the premises of your work if you so choose. Legally, you cannot be required by your employer to work during your legally protected lunch or dinner break. The employer must permit their employee to relinquish all workplace activities for their uninterrupted 30-minute lunch break. Any attempt to discourage the employee from taking their legally protected, off-duty break is against the law.

If you have reason to believe your lunch break legal rights have been violated by your employer, please contact our law firm to discuss your case with our legal team.

Are There Any Exceptions to California’s Lunch Break Laws?

There are a few exceptions to California’s meal break laws. For example, the state’s meal break laws only pertain to non-exempt employees. Exempt employees are not held to the same lunch break standards.

Exempt employees are usually white-collar workers earning at least twice as much as the state’s minimum wage requirements.

Exempt workers may also include salespeople, construction workers, security officers, electrical engineers, motion picture film crew members, and commercial truck drivers. However, that said, these workers may be entitled to breaks based on company policies.

To better understand your legal rights as an exempt employee, it is strongly recommended that you contact an experienced employment and labor attorney in your area without delay.

Are California Employees Entitled to Rest Breaks?

In addition to lunch and dinner breaks, employees are entitled to rest breaks as well. A rest break is a 10-minute period Of rest for every four hours of work. If at all possible, the rest break should be taken at some point in the middle of their four hours of work.

A rest period is not legally required for employees who work less than three and a half hours in a day.

What Are the Penalties for Employer Break Violations?

In 2024, public prosecutors, like district attorneys, county councils, or even the Attorney General, can enforce the law by pursuing legal action for certain Labor Code violations in California. Such Labor Code violations include unpaid overtime, unpaid minimum wage, failure to provide rest breaks, and the failure to provide legally protected meal breaks.

This change in the law is in addition to and separate from the labor commissioner’s right to investigate employee complaints against their employers.

What Happens When Employers Retaliate Against Workers Because They Took a Break?

Employees who feel that their meal and rest break rights have been taken from them by their employers have the right to sue their employers and seek compensation. Contact our law firm to discuss your case in more detail, and we can help you proceed with your lawsuit against your employer for rest and meal break violations.

Can Employees Skip or Waive Their Breaks?

Employers are required to grant you 30-minute meal breaks, but they are not required to make you take those breaks. Provided that the employer does not pressure or encourage you to skip or delay your meal breaks, you may take them at a later time or skip them voluntarily.

An employee who works for approximately five hours or more may opt to waive their off-duty meal break if they so choose. However, if they end up working for 10 hours or more in a single day, they must take an uninterrupted meal break.

While not required by law, an employer may decide to force an employee to take a break for their own well-being. If the employee decides to skip the break despite this order from a superior, they may be written up for insubordination, and this is not against the law.

Contact Our Law Firm for a Free Consultation

If you believe that your break time has been violated by your employer, please contact our law firm to discuss your case in more detail. And if you are an employer trying to understand the 2024 laws for mandated lunch breaks and break time, we would be happy to assist you with legal advice.

Please contact our law firm to schedule a free case evaluation.

You may call our Oakland law office at 510-254-3777 and our San Francisco office at 415-433-4589.

Fred Geonetta
By: Fred Geonetta

Frederick J. Geonetta is a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law. His legal practice is entirely devoted to litigation. Mr. Geonetta has spent the past 25 years in private practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants who have been harmed or wronged by the actions of others or who have been falsely accused of causing harm to others. He represents clients across the U.S. and international clients who seek U.S. legal advice or representation.