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The California Labor Code protects employees throughout the state in a number of ways, including requiring employers to provide adequate rest and meal breaks for employees during the workday. The basic rule is that employees must be able to take a rest break of at least 10 minutes for every four hours the employee worked, as well as at least a 30-minute meal break every five hours. Employers must pay employees for rest breaks, but they do not have to compensate employees for meal breaks

Rest Breaks 

Generally speaking, you should get a rest break once every four hours or more frequently, depending on the number of total hours worked. However, what if you work less than four hours? Does this mean you must work straight through without a break at all? California courts have reviewed the matter and determined that for the initial four hours of a work shift, the employee deserves a break after 3.5 hours of work, as employers should round up from 3.5 to four hours. For a second four-hour period, the employer should round up and provide a break if the employee works at least two additional hours. Based on this, here’s how many breaks you should be authorized and permitted to take during a workday: 

Shift LengthAmount of Breaks
3.5 hours to 6 hours 1 ten-minute break 
Over 6 hours to 10 hours2 ten-minute breaks
Over 10 hours to 14 hours 3 ten-minute breaks 


Meal Break Overview

Meal breaks must be 30 minutes long and uninterrupted and provided before the end of the fifth and tenth hour of work. During both meal and rest breaks, an employer must do all of the following:

  • Relieve the employee of all work duties
  • Not exerting control over how the employee spends their time
  • Does not discourage the employee or try to prevent them from taking their breaks
  • Provide a reasonable opportunity for the employee to take 30 uninterrupted minutes free of employer duty and control. 

Possible Penalties for Employers

Employers who do not provide breaks as California mandates are subject to stiff penalties that must be paid to the employees. Employers who fail to provide rest breaks and meal breaks as above owe the employee one hour of the employee’s wages for every day without a rest break provided

Consult with a California Employment Law Attorney Regarding Your Concerns

If your employer has not provided you with proper break time or pressures you not to take your breaks, you should discuss the matter with a California employment lawyer at the Mara Law Firm. We stand up for the rights of employees under California law, so call (619) 234-2833 or contact us online for help today. 

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney David Mara who has more than 20 years of legal experience in employment law.

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