California labor laws require companies to provide both exempt and nonexempt employees with a 30-minute uninterrupted meal break if they work at least five hours during a shift.
Employers may be responsible for providing additional compensation to workers, including overtime pay, for violating this policy. Legal infractions include controlling workers’ actions during their allowed rest periods.
Employees covered under the law
Paid or unpaid meal breaks apply to most nonexempt workers. Workers are not entitled to paid meal breaks but must still receive a 30-minute uninterrupted break if they work five hours or more during a shift.
Employees working 10-hour shifts or longer must receive an additional 30-minute break under the law. However, the employer and employee can agree to waive one meal break.
Legally classified independent contractors are not eligible for meal breaks.
Employer obligations for unpaid meal breaks
Employers aren’t required to pay workers for meal periods as long as they meet these legal requirements:
- They exercise no control over the worker’s activities during the 30-minutes
- Do not discourage or hinder the employee from taking the break
- Provide workers with a “reasonable” opportunity for an uninterrupted break
- Relieve workers of all duties during the period
When violations occur, employees can pursue remedies for paid breaks. In most cases, employers must pay “on-duty” employees for their time. These workers generally have roles or responsibilities preventing them from taking uninterrupted meal breaks. The law allows exclusions for certain health care workers.