How Many Hours Can an Employee Work Without a Break - California Labor Law

How Many Hours Can an Employee Work Without a Break in California?

How many hours can an employee work without a break in California?


California law requires nonexempt employees to get a 30-minute meal break after working five hours in one day. Employees who work more than ten hours in a day are entitled to take another 30-minute meal break.

How Many Hours Can an Employee Work Without a Break in California - California Meal and Rest Break LawsBut while five hours is the longest stretch of time a California employee is allowed to work without being given a meal break, the law provides for rest breaks, as well. Nonexempt employees who work 3.5 hours or more in a day are entitled to a 10-minute rest break, as well. The chart below illustrates the breaks you’re entitled to take after working – provided you’re a nonexempt employee.

Shift Length Break Length
3.5 to 6 hours One 10-minute rest break
5 to 10 hours One 30-minute meal break
6 to 10 hours Two 10-minute rest breaks
10 hours or more Two 30-minute meal breaks

Can I Work 6 Hours Without a Lunch Break?

You can waive your meal break if you’re working no more than 6 hours in a day. However, you don’t have to – and your employer can’t legally make you.

How Many Hours Can an Employee Work Without a Break in CaliforniaIf you clock in at 8 a.m. and you know you’re only working until 2 p.m., you can waive your 30-minute meal break. However, if you’re working until 2:30 p.m. or later, your employer still has to provide you with a 30-minute meal break.

These breaks have to be uninterrupted time while the worker is off-duty. An employer can’t require a worker to work while having a rest break or meal break – or otherwise control the worker’s activity. The bottom line is that regardless of how many hours an employee can work without a break in California, the employer has to do the following to remain compliant with our state’s meal and rest break laws:

  • Completely relieve you from duty while you’re on break
  • Let you leave without controlling your activities
  • Allow you a reasonable opportunity to have an uninterrupted break (either for a meal or for a period of rest)

How Often Do Employees Have to Take Meal Breaks in CaliforniaMeal breaks are unpaid, but your employer has to pay you for rest breaks. If your employer makes you work through lunch – such as by eating at your desk while you complete work-related tasks – it may be violating California’s meal break laws. However, if you have a job that doesn’t allow you to completely take a break from all your duties, your employer may be allowed to provide you with a paid meal break. In order for your employer to provide you with a paid meal break, you must both agree to it in writing.

Related: California’s new overtime law

What is a Nonexempt Employee?

How Long Can an Employee Work Without a Break in CaliforniaMany people are nonexempt employees who are entitled to protection under California labor laws. Nonexempt employees are all people who don’t meet the criteria to be exempt employees. Use the guidelines below to determine whether you may be an exempt or nonexempt employee, and if you’re not sure, you may want to contact a Glendale labor lawyer for help.

You may be an exempt employee if you are a/an:

  • Executive, administrative or professional employee
  • Independent contractor
  • Computer professional

However, your job title alone doesn’t exempt you. In order to be an exempt employee, you must:

  • Be primarily engaged in executive, administrative or professional duties (so more than 50 percent of your work includes these types of duties)
  • Regularly and customarily exercise discretion and independent judgment on the job
  • Earn a salary equivalent to at least twice the state minimum wage for full-time work, based on a 40-hour workweek

If none of those applies to you, you’re most likely a nonexempt employee – and that means you’re entitled to meal and rest breaks according to the table above.

Related: Contractor vs. employee: Which are you?

Do You Need Legal Advice on How Many Hours an Employee Can Work Without a Break in California?

If you suspect your employer is violating California’s meal and rest break laws, you could have legal recourse – and you may be entitled to additional pay. Call us at 818-230-8380 or fill out the form below to tell us about your situation. If we can help you, we will.


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