California Laws on Meal and Rest Breaks | Mann & Elias
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California Laws on Meal and Rest Breaks


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 law does not require employers to provide breaks to workers. Instead, breaks are given more out of courtesy and company policy, since most businesses realize employees who are trying to work while tired and hungry will not be very productive. In most companies, employees are paid only for their short breaks, not their lunch break. Yet while federal law may not make these breaks mandatory, state laws in California tell an entirely different story. If you are having problems with your employer over meal and rest breaks, discuss your concerns with an employment attorney 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 example, 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 manning 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

In attempts to skirt state and federal laws, some employers will try to create a new definition for “bona fide” breaks. These breaks, generally defined as situations where employees are relieved of all duties during the break period, can vary among employers. However, a meal break is usually deemed to be bona fide if it lasts for at least 30 minutes. But here again, federal law pertaining to these breaks only applies if an employer actually allows employees to take breaks. If you are working in a restaurant and are being barred from taking breaks pursue legal consultation.

Meal Breaks

When working in a California restaurant or other establishment, your employer is required by law to give you a 30-minute meal break if you have worked more than five hours. Generally unpaid, this 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 meal break for which you must be paid. However, if this occurs, you must agree to it in writing. When disputes involving paid or unpaid meal breaks occur between you and your employer, don’t allow yourself to be cheated out of income you deserve.

Rest Breaks

If you work at least four hours during your shift at a restaurant or elsewhere, California law states your employer is required to give you a paid 10-minute 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. In most cases, rest breaks will be worked into the middle of your shift to make them more convenient. However, this is not mandated by law. Should you work less than four hours during a shift, your employer is not required to give you a paid rest break. If you are not getting the rest breaks to which you believe you are entitled, let a lawyer communicate with your employer.

California Law

While federal laws may not protect restaurant workers completely in terms of receiving breaks and being paid for them, state laws in California are very different. To begin with, California requires all employers to give their employees not only a paid meal break, but also paid rest breaks. However, since many restaurants stay extremely busy, some employers will overlook these laws and force employees to work through breaks while refusing to pay them for their efforts. Should you be encountering such a situation, let the law work for you by discussing your case during a consultation. We understand both the toll restaurant work can take on you as well as the protections for restaurant workers in Los Angeles.

Are Employees Required to Take Their Breaks?

In most cases, no. Based on a ruling from the California Supreme Court, employers are only required to offer breaks to their workers. However, they are not required to force employees into taking their breaks, should an employee choose instead to work through a scheduled break period. However, special circumstances may come into play here, especially with employees who are working shifts of at least 10 hours. In these instances, employees are entitled to two 30-minute unpaid meal breaks. However, while an employee may choose to waive one of these meal breaks, they are not allowed to waive both during their shift. When concerns about these breaks arise, don’t let the situation deteriorate even more. To get your questions answered, seek guidance from an attorney.

Employer Intimidation

In many situations where restaurant workers are not receiving state-mandated breaks or being paid for taking their breaks, employers will use intimidation tactics that include threats of having hours reduced, demotions to lesser jobs, or even being fired altogether. Because of this, many employees choose to stay silent for fear of losing jobs and money they desperately need. However, staying silent only allows the problem to continue. In fact, should many employees be facing 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 the counties of 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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