Navigating California's Break Requirements | Mann & Elias
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Navigating California’s Break Requirements


No matter where you work in California, chances are you have regularly scheduled meals and rest breaks built into your shift. However, whenever questions arise about these breaks, employees are shocked to learn federal laws do not mandate employers to provide them to workers.

Instead, breaks are offered out of courtesy and company policy. Businesses realize fatigued and hungry employees are likely to be less productive. While federal law may not make these breaks mandatory, state laws in California tell an entirely different story. If you have problems with your employer over meal and rest breaks, discuss your concerns with an employment attorney in Los Angeles.

California Law

While federal laws may not protect restaurant workers completely, state laws in California are very different.

  • California requires all employers to give their employees unpaid meal and rest breaks.
  • When employers overlook these laws and force employees to work through breaks, they should contact an attorney for a consultation.
  • In 2012, the California Supreme Court ruled that employers have met their obligations after relieving workers of their duties for half an hour – including the ability to leave the worksite.
  • Breaks should not get forced onto an employee; they must choose between working through a scheduled break period or accepting a rest period.

At Mann & Elias, we understand both the toll restaurant work can take on you as well as the protections for restaurant workers in Los Angeles.

Paid and Unpaid Breaks

Under federal law, paid and unpaid breaks often come into question when disputes arise between employees and employers. For instance, federal law does require employers to pay employees for all hours worked, including lunch breaks. Thus, if a person continues their work duties during a scheduled break, such as a receptionist operating a front desk or a server getting something to eat while continuing to wait on tables, they are required to be paid for this time. If this is not happening for you, speak to a Los Angeles lawyer for rest and meal breaks at Mann & Elias.

“Bona Fide” Breaks

Some employers will create a new definition for “bona fide” breaks in attempts to skirt state and federal laws. Bona fide meal breaks are structured to relieve employees of their responsibilities for at least 30 minutes. If you are working in a restaurant and getting barred from taking them, your best option is to consult with a lawyer.

Meal Breaks

  • When working in a California restaurant or other establishment, your employer must, by law, give you a 30-minute lunch if you have worked more than five hours.
  • Those who work ten hours are entitled to a second 30-minute unpaid break.
  • The second break can be waived if the workday exceeds 12 hours.

Whether it will be a paid break is left up to the discretion of the employer. In cases where you cannot be relieved of all duties, your employer must give you an on-duty, paid lunch. However, if this occurs, you must agree to it in writing. When disputes involving paid or unpaid meal breaks arise, don’t let yourself get cheated out of the income you deserve.

Rest Breaks

  • California law states your employer is required to give you a paid 10-minute rest break if you work at least four hours during your shift.
  • Should you work less than four hours during a shift, your employer is not required to give you a paid rest break.

Working in a fast-paced environment that requires you to be on your feet is tiring, so a 10-minute rest is usually welcomed. If the break isn’t in your schedule, you might be able to add it to a lunch shift or break periodically throughout the day.

If you feel overworked and deprived of time to recuperate for a few minutes, an experienced lawyer can communicate with your employer.

Employer Intimidation

Employers might use intimidation tactics to prevent employees from addressing break concerns. They might threaten to reduce your hours, demote to lesser positions, or wrongfully terminate you.

Because of this, many employees choose to stay silent for fear of losing jobs and money they desperately need. However, opting not to voice your concerns only allows the problem to continue. In fact, should many employees face the same problem, banding together and speaking to a lawyer can bring a sense of empowerment, not to mention favorable results.


Since 1998, Mann & Elias has served Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Ventura. With over $18 million in settlements and verdicts and nearly 100 jury and bench trials under their belts, Scott Mann and Imad Elias have the proven ability to provide exceptional legal care in all areas of employment litigation. Contact us today for a free initial consultation.


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