Sometimes we physically and mentally need a meal break during the workday to refresh ourselves, so we can perform at an optimal level throughout the day. California law recognizes that meal breaks are a basic need and addresses when an employee is owed a meal break.
Under California law, if you work five or more hours in a workday, your employer is required to give you a 30-minute meal break. The exception is if you work six hours in a workday. In that situation, you and your employer can agree to waive the meal break requirement.
If you work 10 or more hours in a workday, you must be given two 30-minute meal breaks. The exception is if you work 12 hours in a workday. In this situation you and your employer can agree to waive the second meal break requirement although you still must be given one 30-minute meal break.
You must be relieved of all job requirements when you are taking your 30-minute meal break. If so, your employer need not pay you during that breaktime. However, if you are required to stay on-site during your meal break you must receive your regular rate of wages during that time.
If you are not relieved of all job requirements when you are taking your 30-minute meal break, this is known as an “on duty” meal break. You must be paid your regular rate of wages when taking an “on duty” meal break. On duty meal breaks are only lawful if the type and nature of the job you work objectively requires it and you have agreed to on duty meal breaks in writing.
Meal breaks are essential for workers to meet their daily needs. If your employer is denying you a meal break you are owed under the law, you may be paid an additional hour of your regular wages for each meal break not given. If you are not provided with this additional pay or if your employer continues to unlawfully deny you meal breaks, you may be able to pursue a claim with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement or file a lawsuit if necessary.