• 25th April 2024

How Many Hours Can an Employee Work Without a Break?

The wage and labor law in California requires non-exempt employees to be granted a 30-minute break after having worked for five hours. However, if the working shift is for more than ten hours in a day, they are entitled to another break of 30 minutes. 

In the case of long working days employees can waive the second meal break but in no case are they entitled to waive the first meal break. They can waive the first meal break only when they are working for six hours or less.

However, when the employee is willing to waive his/her lunch break, both employer and the employee must agree in writing. In any case, the official waiver for employees is only allowed when the workday is less than or equal to six hours.

Meal Break Time Is California for Long Working Days

The number of meal breaks an employee is entitled to be based on the total number of working hours in a day. 

  • When the employees work for less than 5 hours a day, they are not eligible for any meal break. 
  • When the employees work between 5 to 10 hours a day, they are entitled to one 30 minutes uninterrupted meal break.
  • When the working hours exceed 10 hours but are not more than 15 hours, workers become eligible for two meal breaks of 30 minutes each.
  • Working hours above 15 but up to 20 hours entitle workers to three meal breaks of 30 minutes each.
  • Lastly, when the working hours exceed the limit of 20 the law entitles the employees to four 30-minute meal breaks.
  • The employee can waive the second meal break if the working hours do not exceed 12 hours. 

Rest Break Time for Employees In California

The limits of rest breaks are separate from the meal breaks and they shall not be clubbed. Let’s look at some points concerning rest brakes.

  • Rest breaks are paid at a regular hourly rate of the employee.
  • Employees are entitled to one 10-minute rest break after 3.5 hours of work in a day.
  • When the work hours exceed 6 hours, the employee gets another 10-minute rest break.
  • After 10 hours, the workmen are eligible for another 10-min break.
  • Employees can even roam outside the work premises during these rest breaks.
  • While the employees can themselves decide to skip the rest breaks, they cannot be forced by the employers to do so.

Category Of Employees Eligible for Lunch and Rest Breaks

As the above text is only applicable to non-exempt employees, it is vital to know the ones who fall in the exempt category. Employees except exempt employees are eligible for lunch and rest breaks.

Here’s the list of white-collar employees who are exempt employees. 

  • Employees who spend the majority of their time doing managerial, intellectual, and creative work. 
  • They exercise discretion and independent judgment in performing their duties.
  • Their monthly salary is at least twice the minimum wage that is prescribed for full-time employment.

Also, the laws regarding meals and rest breaks do not apply to the workers who fall under the definition of independent contractors.

Lastly, the unionized employees whose collective bargaining provisions provide for meal breaks on different schedules are out of the scope of aforesaid limits. Some examples of unionized employees covered under a collective bargaining agreement are-

  • Employees in electrical or gas companies,
  • Employees in construction occupations,
  • Employees in the motion picture industry,
  • commercial drivers, and
  • security officers.

Rights of Employee When the Employer Denies Rest and Lunch Breaks

Employees have the right to sue the employer if provisions w.r.t meal and rest break laws are not adhered to. An employee is entitled to 1-hour wages per day on days he/she was denied any rest breaks and an additional 1-hour wage in case he/she was denied any meal breaks. 

However, there are certain time limits within which such claims can be filed. In the case of meal and rest breaks, the employee must file the claim within 3 years. Though there are also cases where the deadline of 1 year instead of 3 years is applicable.

We hope the blog helps in clearing your doubts regarding rules concerning how many hours can an employee work without a break.



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