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Meal and Break Rules in California

Filed under Managing the Workplace. Fact checked on June 2, 2012.

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Employers in California must comply with these state rules relating to meals and break times.

In California separate rules exist for meal and rest periods.

Meal Period Requirements

Generally, the rule for meal periods is that no person may be employed for a work period of more than five hours without a meal period of not less than 30 minutes. However, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent if a work period of not more than six hours will complete the day's work.

Unless the employee is completely relieved of duty, the meal period must be considered time worked. Also, if employees must eat on the premises, a suitable place for that purpose must be designated.

The following employees are exempt from the meal break requirements if the employees are covered by a valid collective bargaining agreement containing specified terms, including meal period provisions:

  • employees in a construction occupation
  • commercial drivers
  • employees in the security services industry employed as security officers
  • employees of electrical and gas corporations

Broadcasting and motion picture industries. For the broadcasting and motion picture industries, the rule is that no person may be employed for a work period of more than six hours without a meal period of not less than 30 minutes nor more than one hour, and that subsequent meal periods must be called not later than six hours after termination of the preceding meal period.

Employees in the motion picture and broadcasting industries who are covered by a valid collective bargaining agreement that provides for meal periods and includes a monetary remedy if the employee does not receive a meal period required by the agreement, are exempt from the state's meal period requirements.

Lumber industry. In the lumber industry, the law provides that every sawmill, shakemill, shinglemill, logging camp, planing mill, veneer mill, plywood plant or any other type of plant or mill that processes or manufactures any lumber, lumber products, or allied wood products in California must allow its employees a period of not less than one-half hour for the midday meal, between the third and fifth hours of each day's shift.

Rest Period Requirements

Generally, employers must grant rest periods for these industries at the rate of ten minutes of rest time for every four hours or major fraction of four hours worked. However, no rest period is necessary if total daily work time is less than three and one-half hours. No deduction from wages may be made for authorized rest time.

Insofar as practicable, a rest period must be in the middle of each work period.

In California, wage orders regulating rest periods exist for the following industries and occupations:

  • manufacturing
  • personal services
  • canning, freezing and preserving
  • professional, technical, clerical, mechanical and similar occupations
  • public housekeeping
  • laundry, linen supply, dry cleaning and dyeing
  • mercantile
  • industries handling products after harvest
  • transportation
  • amusement and recreation
  • broadcasting and motion pictures
  • industries preparing agricultural products for market on the farm
  • agricultural occupations
  • household occupations

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