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What breaks do employees have a right to under the law?

On Behalf of | Nov 7, 2023 | Employment Law

SWN Digital reported that 51% of workers in the U.S. do not take a proper lunch break at work. In California, state labor laws protect employees’ rights to breaks.

These regulations aim to ensure that workers have the opportunity to take essential breaks during their workday to safeguard their well-being and productivity.

Meal breaks

If an employee works more than five hours in a single shift, they must have an unpaid meal break lasting at least 30 minutes. This meal break should be within the first five hours of work. In cases where the total workday does not exceed six hours, employees and employers may mutually agree to waive this meal break. However, for shifts exceeding ten hours, a second meal break of at least 30 minutes is also a requirement.

Rest breaks

In addition to meal breaks, non-exempt employees have the right to paid rest breaks. These breaks allow for a 10-minute pause for every four hours worked. Ideally, these breaks should be in the middle of each work period. If the employer does not provide a rest break, employees must receive one hour of extra pay as compensation.


Certain employees may be exempt from these break requirements, such as those considered exempt from overtime regulations or individuals in industries or roles where on-duty meal breaks are more practical due to the nature of their work.

Reasonable efforts

Employers must make reasonable efforts to enable employees to take their required breaks. While some flexibility is allowable, employers should not hinder or discourage employees from taking their breaks.

When employers fail to provide mandated meal and rest breaks, they may face penalties and may need to compensate affected employees. Employees can initiate claims with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement to seek redress for break violations.

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