California has strict labor laws governing when workers can take meal breaks, when they must be paid for breaks, and whether employees can work while on break.
These laws apply to nearly all employees who are not exempt from earning overtime—and depending on how long you work, you might get more than one meal break per shift.
For most non-exempt employees, an employer must provide:
One Meal Break:
Your manager or supervisor must provide you with a meal period of at least thirty minutes any time your shift is at least five consecutive hours. However, if the total work period of the day is less than 6 hours, the meal period may be waived if both the employer and employee consent.
A Second Meal Break:
Any employee who works more than ten hours per day must take a second meal period of at least thirty minutes. If the total hours worked is less than 12, the employee may voluntarily give up his second break as long as he did not waive the first meal period of the shift.
A Place to Eat:
If employers are required to remain on the premises while eating, the employer is responsible for designating a suitable place for that purpose. Under the guidelines of the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC), employer requirements for break rooms may include sinks, a supply of potable water, or disposable towels or hand dryers.
Access To Food:
The IWC also demands that employees whose meal period occurs on a shift during the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. must be given adequate facilities for securing hot food or drinks, or the ability to heat food or drinks they have brought from home. They must also be provided with a sheltered place that is adequate for suitable consumption of food and drink.
Not only are employers required to provide breaks, they must also ensure that employees are relieved of all duties for the entirety of their meal periods.