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How much lunch break time does a worker have in California?

State law determines the employer’s obligations to its employees, based on hours of work per day.

The laws of the state of California, United States, require that most employees is entitled to a 30 minute meal if they work more than 5 hours and the right to at least one 10 minute paid break if they work at least 3.5 hours a dayplus a second break of ten minutes if they work at least 6 hours.

In California, all workers are protected by labor laws. It doesn’t matter where you were born or whether you have papers to work with. Once hired, each worker will, including these items:
• Breaks and free time to eat
• Minimum wage and extra hours (overtime)
• Healthy and safe work opportunities
• Take action without being punished
• Injury or unemployment benefits
• Salary and breaks

According to the specialized website legalaidatwork.org, employers must provide all non-exempt employees the opportunity to have a 30-minute meal period if they work more than five hours. (Certain special rules apply to the film industry.) An employee can agree with the employer not to take a meal break if the employee works less than six hours.



Construction workers build new homes in Alhambra, California. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)

what do the laws say

When an employer provides a meal period, the employer does not have to ensure that no work is performed. However, in order to provide a meal period, an employer must relieve the employee of all duties and obligations and allow the employee to use the meal period as the employee wishes.

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If an employer pressures an employee to work during a meal period or creates obligations that make it difficult to take a meal period, then the employer does not fulfill his obligation to provide your employees with an uninterrupted meal period. Employers usually do not have to pay their employees for the meal period.

If an employee works more than hours, the employee is entitled to two meal periods of thirty minutes each. An employee can waive the second meal break if they work less than twelve hours and have already taken the first meal break.

Two field workers during the harvest of melons in one of the melon orchards, on July 14, 2022, near the town of Los Baños in the Central Valley of California (USA).  EFE / Guillermo Azabal


Two field workers during the harvest of melons in one of the melon orchards, on July 14, 2022, near the town of Los Baños in the Central Valley of California (USA). EFE / Guillermo Azabal

Non-exempt employees who work at least 6 hours per day must be allowed to take two ten (10) minute breaks and non-exempt employees who work at least 10 hours must be allowed to take three ten (10) minute breaks take. (In other words, employees are allowed to take a break for every four hours worked or a majority fraction thereof, as long as they work at least 3.5 hours.)

Meanwhile, employers must always pay employees for ten-minute breaks.

Employers generally do not have to pay for employees’ meal periods, but They must pay employees if they must remain on the premises or remain “on duty”.

for most employees they cannot be expected to remain on the premises during a meal period. An “on duty” meal period is only permitted if the type of work performed prevents the employee from being relieved of all responsibilities and the employee and employer enter into a written agreement allowing a paid meal period during their working hours.

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When a meal period occurs when the employee is “on duty,” the employer must pay the employee. (Some healthcare workers may be required to remain on site during an off-duty meal period.)

More information can be found at www.labor.ca.gov/employmentstatus.

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