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Spotlight On California Work Break Laws

Posted by Leslie Ruhland on Aug 26, 2019 2:11:00 PM
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Even the most diligent employers can run afoul of California work break laws. Compliance trumps perceived efficiency in these cases.



California employers are often painfully aware that their state has some of the strictest employment laws in the U.S. And this includes California work break laws.

Managing and complying with the regulatory maze of California labor laws can be a challenge for most employers and their HR staff. Each year new employment laws are added to the books, while very few if any existing laws ever get removed. The result that workforce management functions become more confusing and frustrating for both management and staff.

California Work Break Laws Overview

This issue has been covered in some depth in previous blog posts and in our free guide. However, the following is an essential overview of the California work break laws:

Employee Rest Breaks

California work break laws require employers to “authorize and permit” their workers to take one 10-minute rest period for every four-hour period worked, or a “major fraction thereof", which means any amount of time more than two hours.

If, however, your employees work less than three and one-half hours in a work day, a rest break is not required. Employee work rest breaks in California must be provided as follows:




Typically, if an employee works an eight-hour shift, one rest break should be taken before the meal break, and one after. And, although no specific timing is required, rest breaks should be taken in the middle of each work period, to the extent that it is reasonable.

Because rest breaks do count as time worked, your employees must be paid for this time. Remember that, in California, these rest breaks are mandatory. If an employer does not allow an employee to take a rest period, that employee will be entitled to one hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay for each workday that rest periods were not made available.

In addition, these rules also apply to "recovery" periods, or cool down periods, which are allowed under other state laws and regulations for employees working in high temperature conditions to prevent heat illness.

Note as well that California employers are also required to provide suitable resting facilities for employees such as a break area or kitchen.

free workforce management guide

Employee Meal Breaks

Employers in California must provide workers with a minimum 30 minute meal break if those employees work more than five hours in the work day. The meal period must begin before, or at, the end of an employee’s fifth hour of work.

If an employee works more than ten hours in the same day, they are entitled to a second meal period of a minimum of 30 minutes. The second meal break must be provided no later than the end of an employee's tenth hour of work.

Employers are not required to pay for meal period times and employees should clock in and out for meal periods.

Meal periods can be taken early in a shift, even though this can result in an employee working more than five hours after the meal, according to a 2012 California Supreme Court decision. Employers must relieve employees of all duties during meal breaks and cannot regulate their activities and they cannot “impede or discourage” employees from taking a meal break.

However, the court also made it clear that, while employers must provide meal breaks, they don't have to require employees to use those breaks. And, although they must also allow employees a “reasonable opportunity” to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, employers are not required to prevent work from being done during meal breaks.

In addition, there are some limited situations meal periods may be waived:

  • The employee and employer may agree to waive the meal period if the employee will work no more than six hours total in the day.
  • If the employee works between 10 and 12 hours, the second meal period may be waived if the first meal period was not waived.

Employers must also stay apprised of additional issues such as minimum hours, employee classification, and hiring activities. These require research and possible policy changes in order to ensure proper compliance.

By developing and maintaining processes for regular review of California work break laws, you can be update your compliance procedures in accordance with changing California (and federal) labor laws.

Have additional questions about other labor laws in California? Check out our  free guide

Staying on Top of California Work Break Laws

Every year, the state of California introduces new legislation, which adds to or amends existing labor laws and reporting requirements. Enforcement of these laws is the responsibility of the State of California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) and other agencies who also ensure that California employers and employees are up to date and compliant with these changes.

Compliance is critical for employers and managers since a failure to comply can lead to costly labor claims, penalties, and even employee lawsuits. And California have been shown to be statistically more likely to engender claims and lawsuits than most other states.

Consequently, staying compliant and up-to-date with meal and rest break requirements and regulations is a critical task for workforce management and HR staff.

For example, there a few significant exceptions. 

In November 2018, California voters approved the measure Proposition 11, which requires private-sector emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics to be reachable during their work breaks. The new law stated that private-sector emergency workers must be available during their entire work shift, including during rest breaks.

Another California example is the requirement for meal and rest breaks for inter-state truck drivers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) ruled to pre-empt the state of California's meal and rest break laws in response to petitions from the American Trucking Associations and the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association. 

Previously, truck drivers operating in California were held to the same standard as other employees when it came to meal and rest breaks. The federal standard that was created especially for truck drivers, only requires a 30-minute break for every eight hours of driving instead of being required to take a 30-minute meal break for every five hours of shifts over six hours and a 10-minute rest break every four hours worked.

Still have questions about break laws? Download our free guide for everything you need to know about meal and rest breaks laws in California.

California Employers and Labor Law Compliance

Changes in regulations expand the potential of risk for employers, require new workplace postings, or mandate updates to existing workplace policies. We recommend that all employers consult with experienced employment counsel to ensure compliance.

Accurate and timely management and compliance practices are required for every business and every payroll professional. But there are options.

Accuchex, a reputable payroll management services provider, can not only relieve you of the burden of your ongoing payroll process demands, but can potentially prove to be a more cost-effective solution, as well. Acccuchex also provides HR, Timekeeping and Workforce Management solutions.

Click this link to get your free download of our Employee Rest and Meal Breaks Guide. Or click the button below to learn what you need to know about labor law in California. For more information, feel free to call Accuchex Payroll Management Services at 877-422-2824.


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Topics: california labor laws, labor law compliance, meal and rest breaks, california break laws, rest breaks

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