Does My California Employer Have to Give Me Breaks From Work?


Your entitlement to meal and rest breaks depends on state law.



California is one of a handful of states that require employers to provide paid rest breaks to employees. 

Although many employees get meal and rest breaks during the workday, these breaks aren’t legally required everywhere. Federal law doesn’t require employers to give employees time off to eat or rest during their shifts. Employees are entitled to these breaks only if their state requires it.  

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn’t require employers to give breaks, but it does regulate when employers have to pay for breaks they choose to give. 

Should Your Breaks Be Paid?

The FLSA requires employers to pay employees for all hours worked, including time the employer may classify as a “break.” An employer does not have to pay for longer meal breaks during which the employee is relieved of all work duties.

However, an employer must pay for:

  • Breaks during which the employee must work. If, for instance, you are allowed to eat at your desk while working, or you have to wolf down your sandwich during a work meeting, that is not a break. That is work time, for which you must be paid. 
  • Breaks lasting 20 minutes or less. These shorter periods off are considered part of the regular work day, and employees are entitled to be paid for them under the FLSA. 

California Law on Meal Breaks

Employees in California have the right to take a half-hour meal break, unpaid, if their work shift lasts at least five hours. If the employee's shift lasts for six hours or less, the employee may waive the right to take a meal break. If the nature of the employee's work precludes the employee from taking a break from all duties, the employer may instead provide an on-duty meal break if the employee agrees. However, this time must be paid. 

Employees have the right to an additional 30-minute unpaid meal break after working for ten hours. If the employee's shift lasts for 12 hours or less, the employee may waive the right to take a meal break. However, the employee may not waive both meal breaks. 

California Law on Rest Breaks 

In California, you are entitled to take a ten-minute rest break, with pay, for every four hours (or major fraction of four hours) you work. Your employer must allow you to take your break in the middle of that work period, if practicable. If you work for less than three and a half hours total, you aren't entitled to a rest break. 



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Jurisdictional relevance: ST

There are versions of this article for each State.