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Understanding required breaks in the California workplace

Working for hours on end can be an exhausting endeavor. California law realizes this and mandates breaks so employees can rest and refresh themselves.

Specifically, depending on the number of consecutive hours an employee works, employers may have to allow him or her to have meal breaks and paid breaks.

Meal breaks

The law entitles non-exempt employees to a meal break of at least 30 minutes when they work for more than five hours a day. This break should occur no later than the end of the employee’s fifth hour of work. If the total workday is less than six hours, the employer and employee can come to a mutual consensus to waive it. However, if the workday extends beyond ten hours, the law demands that workers provide a second 30-minute meal break. These meal breaks are generally unpaid.

Rest breaks

In addition to meal breaks, employers must provide non-exempt employees with rest breaks. For every four hours worked, employees must receive a 10-minute paid rest break, often in the middle of the work period.


California’s labor laws take breaks seriously, and employers who fail to comply may face penalties. They may have to pay one hour of pay for each day a break is not provided.

Employers must provide breaks to workers who meet the hours thresholds. Besides the legal consequences, denying breaks may also lead to poorer work performance among employees. Breaks are important for job satisfaction, overall efficiency and quality and emotional and mental health. When workers receive the breaks the law entitles them to, they are more likely to produce and want to produce greater results.