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What should workers know about California’s law on break periods?

Learn more about required breaks and meal periods under California labor laws. Discover what must happen and when an employer must pay for a break. Also, get details on exemptions.

Not every state provides workers with the legal right to take a break at work. But California is a worker-friendly state, providing laws that look out for the well-being of employees. Under the law in this state, workers have specific rights to take breaks, and employers must ensure they get the legally supplied time away from work throughout the workday.

Break rules

The Department of Industrial relations explains labor laws require employers to provide workers with 10 minutes of break time for every four hours worked. Employers must pay for this time away.

Work that is in excess of two hours qualifies as a four-hour period for the purpose of break time. Ideally, the law requires an employer to provide this break around the middle of the employee’s work day.


There are exceptions for some occupations. Employers in industries where allowing all employees a break at the same time would be dangerous or negative for operations can stagger breaks as needed. People in physically demanding performing occupations, such as dancers, should receive breaks as needed. In 24-hour care facilities, employers can limit breaks as required to continue providing proper care to residents.

Other situations

Some occupations may also have different rules. For example, employees on commercial fishing boats must have at least eight hours off duty every 24 hours. They also have entitlement to breaks for rest and meals.

Another situation that has different rules applies to breastfeeding mothers who need time to express milk. The Labor Code states these workers have the right to extra time, but the employer does not have to pay them for the extra time over the required ten-minute break.

Meal period requirements

Beyond breaks, an employer must also provide workers with a 30-minute meal period for every five hours worked. All employees must take this unpaid break if they work at least six hours.

For employees working 12 hours, there must be an offer of a second meal break, but employees do not have to take this one.

The employee cannot work during this time and must be relieved of all duties. If the employee does any work while on the meal break, the employer must pay him or her for the break.

Employers must provide the breaks and meal periods required under the law. If they fail to do so, there are harsh penalties they may face. Employees have the right to report an employer not complying with the law. For anyone who is struggling with an employer that does not want to honor Labor law requirements, it can be helpful to speak with an employment attorney, such as those at The Law Offices of Daniel Feder.