California Labor Laws: Meal and Rest Periods

Push Operations
December 10, 2020

Restaurant labor compliance: Meal and Rest Period Rules and Violations

In an employee friendly state like California, labor laws are always in favor of your staff. Meaning, being an employee friendly business is more than a bonus; it's a requirement. Labor compliance laws set the standard of what your employer practices should be; and in a chaotic environment like restaurants, it's a competitive advantage when retaining employees. Though it’s one aspect of labor management, break compliance is a one of the biggest menace of restaurant businesses; especially in California. The laws are blurry, complex, and the meal and rest periods are hard to manage.

But the first step of managing the beast of meal and rest periods, is fully understandings its rules, regulations, and calculations. We’re always working to make work easy for restaurant owners, so we've put together a quick guide to meal and rest periods in California:

So what exactly qualifies a meal period?

According to the California Labor Code (Section 512) and the State of California’s Department of Industrial Relations, it is defined as follows:

And rest periods rules are as follows:

  • Employers also provide their employees a 10 minute paid rest period for each four hour shift (or major fraction thereof).
  • Breaks should be uninterrupted, and taken as close to the middle of their shift period as possible.
  • The requirements of a rest period are like a meal period but the rest break is paid.
  • If a rest period is unprovided, the employee is entitled to one hour of their "regular rate" for each workday that the rest period is not permitted.

Employees are entitled to two meal periods at a full 30 minutes each when they work a 10 hour shift. The second meal period may be waived only if:

  1. The first period has not been waived
  2. The shift is no longer than 12 hours
  3. And with the consent of both the employee and employer.

In short, for every 6 hour shift worked, an employee is eligible for a 10 minute paid and uninterrupted rest period and a 30 minute uninterrupted meal period, unless the meal or rest period is mutually waived by the employee and employer.

Meal Period Violations and Penalties.

Meal period violations are easy to come across and penalties can be hefty. Some examples of cases where an employer would need to pay a meal period penalty are outlined below:

  • The restaurant is short staffed and the employee needs to stay, and the employer does not provide a meal period
  • The manager forgets to send an employee on their meal period (therefore not providing a break)
  • An employee is required to be on call during their meal and rest period, or if they’re not allowed to leave the restaurant

The penalty is equal to one hour of an employee's’ regular rate. An employee's regular rate is calculated by taking their wages for the work day divided by the number hours worked.

The penalty is put in place in order to protect employees and allow them to fully rest for 10-30 minutes and it enforces employers to grant opportunities for employees to have a break.

To put the rules into perspective, here’s an example:

Peter is scheduled to work from 11:00am to 7:00pm. As he works an 8 hour shift, he is entitled to one unpaid 30 minute meal period, and two 10 minute rest periods. His scheduled breaks are as follows:

  • 3pm Rest Period
  • 4:30pm Meal Period
  • 6pm Second Rest Period

At 2:50pm, Peter is asked by his manager to work through this rest period due to a overflowing lunch rush. Peter agrees, and works through his rest break. A rest period premium, which is equivalent to one hour of Peter's“regular rate,” will be given to him in return. In this scenario, Peter's manager technically did not provide him a undisturbed break and made the conscious decision to pay him the rest period penalty instead.

For his meal period...

At 3:15, Peter is prompted by his manager to prepare to take his unpaid meal break. He is in the middle of serving a large party, and decides that he does not want to go on his meal break. Peter's manager allows this; therefore they have both mutually agreed to waive the break. In this scenario, his employer does not have to pay a meal period penalty, as Peter was provided with a meal period but he chose not to go (Brinker Restaurant Corp vs Superior Court, p. 35 [fn]. 19,  2012). Any waived breaks do not require a written agreement. However a meal waiver form is a great tool for Peter's manager to cover his bases as an employer and to track and manage waived breaks.

If a rest period or a meal period was not provided throughout Peter's entire shift, he is entitled to two extra hours of pay at the his regular hourly rate, at the most (one for the meal period and one for the rest periods). Meal and rest period penalties are required for each workday, not each occurrence per day.

Waiving Meal and Rest Periods

It gets tricky when the act of waiving breaks comes into play. Employers must provide the opportunity for employees to have a meal break. However, if the employee chooses not to go when the break is offered then the employer is no longer liable to pay a meal period penalty. Meal period waivers in this instance are used as preventative measures to class action lawsuits.

Meal break waivers are not legally required, but they're a precaution that can be taken to prevent class action lawsuits. And they should include 3 key things:

  1. You agree to waive the meal period
  2. The employee agrees to waive the meal period
  3. The employee chose not to go on their provided meal period

If you don't have a form yet, download our free meal break waiver below!

One of the hardest part of break and meal period compliance is ensuring that employees actually go. If your business is trying to reduce labor costs, consistently paying meal period penalties aren’t going to help! Our solution? Break tracking software that integrates with our payroll module. The biggest benefit of this? You'll be able to track breaks and pay employees on the same platform. Bye bye data transfers, manual calculations and the lurking menace of labor law suits.Interested in learning how Push Operations streamlines restaurant management into one seamless platform?


This document is provided by Push Technologies Inc. ("Push Operations") for information purposes only. This is not an official or legal document and should not be taken as legal advice. Push Operations does not guarantee or warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information provided. For the most accurate and up-to-date information, please check with the proper governing authority.