man taking break from work project in office

What Breaks Are Employees
Entitled to in California?

Robinson Bradford LLP May 4, 2022

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 virtually revolutionized the U.S. workplace by instituting a standard workweek of 40 hours, a minimum wage, overtime pay of time-and-a-half one’s hourly wage after 40 hours, and establishing recordkeeping and child labor regulations.

The legislation required states to follow these standards so long as they participated in interstate commerce, but it also allowed states to pass legislation exceeding the FLSA. In recent decades, California has more and more been on the vanguard of labor law legislation pushing FLSA standards to new heights.

While the FLSA did not mandate sick time, vacation days, or meal or rest periods for workers, the Golden State mandates three sick days a year, though it raised that to two weeks during the pandemic. Though the state does not mandate vacation time, it has put in place vigorous protections for those who enjoy these benefits at work. And, on the meal and rest period front, California has indeed filled in the void left in the FLSA.

If you are an employee in or around Stockton, Temecula, or Costa Mesa, California, and you’re being denied meal or rest break rights, or if you simply want more information to make an informed decision, contact the employment law attorneys at Robinson Bradford LLP. Together, we have over 50 years of trial experience defending employee rights.

Robinson Bradford LLP proudly represents clients throughout Stockton, Temecula, and Costa Mesa, California.

California Laws on Meal and Rest Breaks

California regulates businesses in California through a series of what it calls work orders. They are usually industry-specific but can be sometimes difficult to decipher. These orders govern wage-and-hour issues and other employment conditions.

Some employers get confused about when a meal or rest break is required by state law and for how long. For starters, you should know that rest and meal breaks apply only to nonexempt employees, generally meaning those who are on hourly wages. Exempt employees are those paid by salary or commission rather than an hourly rate.

In basic terms, California requires that nonexempt workers receive a 10-minute paid rest break for every four hours they work. According to the state’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), work periods of more than two hours constitute a “major fraction” of the four-hour standard, but no rest period is required if an employee works fewer than three-and-a-half hours.

Further, employees enjoy the right to a “net” 10-minute break, which means that they should be allowed to take their breaks near the middle of each four-hour period in a place away from their work area, if possible. The latter could present an issue for the employer since the 10 minutes are supposed to begin once the employee is relieved of all duties. But, what if the breakroom is a five-minute walk away?

As for meal breaks, employees must receive a 30-minute unpaid meal break for every five hours of work. If they work 10 hours, they are entitled to another 30 minutes, but they can waive this entitlement if the first break was taken on time. Meal breaks must begin before the fifth hour of work has been reached. So, if an employee starts at 9 a.m., the meal break must begin by 1:59 p.m.

If employees work no more than six hours, they can waive the meal break requirement.

On-duty meal breaks are permitted only if the nature of the work prevents the employee from being relieved of duty, but an on-duty meal break must be agreed to in writing and must be paid.

Lactation Accommodation

By law, every California employer must provide a “reasonable amount of break time” for an employee to pump breast milk for the employee’s infant each time the employee has a need to do so. 

The law allows this period to coincide with regular rest breaks, but if it doesn’t, then it need not be paid. The employer must also provide a room dedicated to this activity that is separate from restrooms and shielded from view.

Premium Pay for Breaks Denied

If an employer fails to provide any of these mandated rest and meal break periods, the employee is entitled to one hour of premium pay for each break period violated. The definition of premium payment has been subject to debate, but a California appeals court recently ruled that it means the employee’s regular base hourly rate of pay. The California Supreme Court has agreed to review the issue.

How Legal Counsel Can Help

If you or a loved one has been subjected to violations of meal and break periods mandated under California law, contact us at Robinson Bradford LLP. We know California employment law and have extensive experience in helping employees exercise the full extent of their rights.

If you’re located in or around Stockton, Costa Mesa, or Temecula, California, reach out now. Let’s discuss your situation, weigh your options, and advise you of your best path forward.