California Lunch Break Laws 2024 – A Comprehensive Guide to Employee Rights

California Lunch Break Laws

It is vital that anyone working in California understands their rights and protections under the state’s employment laws. It is up to the employees to identify when their rights are being violated and their potential for recourse. Speaking with an experienced California employment lawyer is one route to determine if your employer violated these laws and the methods available to you for recompense.

California Lunch Break Law

This section of California law states that employees are legally entitled to a 30-minute meal time for every five hours of work. During this meal break, employees must be free from all work-related duties and permitted to leave the premises. Your employer cannot dictate what you do during your break, so you are free to eat, run errands, conduct personal business, etc. Employees are not paid during a meal break.

California employees are entitled to a meal break if they are scheduled for a shift longer than five hours, and the break should occur before those five hours have passed. To clarify, if you are scheduled from 1:00 pm to 9:00 pm, you are entitled to a 30-minute meal break, and it should occur before 6:00 pm. If a shift is longer than 10 hours, you are entitled to a second meal break.

Employers are obligated to allow for meal breaks, but they are not required to force you to take a break. They can, however, dictate your schedule. This means that your employer can dictate the time during your shift that you take your meal break, and you can be penalized for refusing to take the meal break when scheduled.


There are some conditions where an employee can choose to skip or waive their meal break. If you are working less than 6 hours, you are not required to take a meal break. If you are working more than 10 hours but less than 12 hours, you are not required to take a second meal break, provided you did take the first meal break. You must have permission from your employer to skip a meal break.

Some employment types are also excluded from the meal break requirement. Independent contractors are not protected by the meal break regulations, and neither are union members whose collective bargaining agreements have separate provisions for meal breaks. Another important group of exempt employees is white collar employees who meet the following requirements:

  • Spend greater than half of their scheduled work time doing managerial, intellectual, or creative work.
  • Regularly exercise independent judgment or discretion in performing those duties.
  • Are paid a monthly salary equivalent to at least double the minimum wage for full-time employment.

Some employees are unable to take a regular meal break due to the nature of their jobs. For example, a lone security guard cannot be fully relieved of their duties, or an employee in a remote location may not be permitted to leave the work premises. In instances like these, the employee should still be permitted to take on-duty meal breaks at their normal rate of pay. Both the employer and employee must agree to this exception in writing.

Meal Breaks vs. Rest Breaks

There are two types of break periods under California law: meal breaks and rest breaks. It is important to understand both types to ensure that you are afforded the correct break periods throughout your work shift.

Both break types are similar in that:

  • Employees must be permitted to leave the premises.
  • No work-related tasks can be required during the break period.
  • They can be skipped if the employee chooses to (without pressure from the employer).

Rest breaks differ from meal breaks in that they:

  • Must last 10 consecutive minutes.
  • Are paid at your normal pay rate.
  • Apply after working 3.5 hours.
  • Should have a designated area, provided by the employer, where they can occur.
  • Can be skipped.


Q: Can I Skip or Waive My Meal Breaks?

A: Though employers are required to make meal breaks available to you, they are not required to make you take them. You can choose to skip or waive your meal break as long as you do not work more than 6 hours. It is important to note, however, that your employer can dictate your work schedule, including your break schedule. Before you choose to skip, waive, or take a lunch break late, it is advised to speak with your employer.

Q: Can My Employer Demand That I Work During a Meal Break?

A: Typically, employers are not able to force employees to remain on-call or continue working during a meal break. An employer asking you to work through your lunch break is the legal equivalent of denying you a meal break. However, your employer is not required to ensure that you do not work through a meal break, so your employer cannot be held responsible if you voluntarily work through your break.

Q: Can I Be Paid Overtime If I Work Through My Lunch Break?

A: California law dictates that any employee who works more than eight hours in a single day or 40 hours in a week must be paid overtime wages for any hours worked past those limits. If not taking your lunch breaks will leave your hours worked over eight hours in a single day or over 40 hours in a week, you are entitled to overtime pay for those hours.

Q: Do I Need to Contact an Attorney If My Employer Violates the Lunch Break Law?

A: It is not legally required that you retain an attorney if you believe that your employer has violated labor laws. It is, however, recommended that you speak with an experienced employment attorney. They can review your evidence, advise on the likelihood of success, and offer recommendations for how to handle your case. If you decide to proceed with a claim, they can help you effectively navigate this complex process.

Skilled California Employment Lawyer

Fighting your employer to ensure that your rights are protected can seem like a daunting task. Retaining a competent employment attorney can take some of the fear and uncertainty away from your efforts to protect your rights. The Law Offices of Miguel S. Ramirez stands ready to support you through this complicated process. If you believe that your employment rights have been violated, reach out to our office today.

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