California Rest Periods: What you need to know

Federal wage hour law does not mandate that employees be given either paid or unpaid rest or meal periods. Whether breaks are required is left up to the states.
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U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division regulations do specify when provided work breaks, including meal periods, rest periods, and sleeping time, must be counted as work time subject to federal minimum wage and overtime requirements (29 CFR 785.18 through 785.23).
Statutory requirement. Employees must be allowed a half-hour meal break during any work period of more than 5 hours per day. Employees may voluntarily give up their meal breaks if the workday does not exceed 6 hours (CA Lab. Code Sec. 512). Employees who work more than 10 hours per day must be provided a second meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that if the total hours worked is less than 12 hours, the second meal period may be waived, but only if the first meal period was not waived. Under ordinary circumstances, the employee must be totally relieved of work duties during the meal period. However, if the nature of the work prevents the employee from being relieved during meals, the employer and employee may agree in writing to “on-duty” meal breaks. The employer must pay wages for any meal period in which the employee is not totally relieved of duty.
The California Supreme Court has ruled that it is an employer’s obligation to relieve its employees of all duty during meal periods, but that an employer does not need to ensure employees do not perform work during their break. It is the employees’ choice on how to spend their meal periods. The Court explained that neither state statutes nor the orders of the Industrial ...

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