<img height="1" width="1" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=2256810414611809&amp;ev=PageView &amp;noscript=1">

California Meal Break and Rest Law: What You Need to Know to NOT Break the Law

The California Meal Break Law can be complicated and confusing for your healthcare practice. If you’re not complying with the meal break and rest law for your practice, you could face expensive litigation. It’s important to understand how current law affects you and your employees.


You’re not “safe” just because you’re following outdated policies and procedures. You need to understand and comply with the latest laws regarding key issues of rest and meal breaks for your non-exempt employees like medical assistants, as well as your exempt employees like your doctors. This guide can help.

What Is the California Meal Break Law for Your Healthcare Practice?  

The California Meal Break & Rest Break Law provides that your employees must receive a 30-minute unpaid meal break for every five hours of work at your healthcare practice. If there is evidence of non-compliance, the court assumes a violation unless you can prove otherwise.   

What are the Meal and Rest Break Requirements Under California Labor Law?  

California Meal Break and Rest Law: What You Need to Know to NOT Break the Law

Per the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), your non-exempt employees are entitled to a 10-minute paid rest break for every four hours worked "or major fraction thereof." According to the state's Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), work periods of more than two hours are a "major fraction" of four. 

You’re not required to offer a rest period if your employee's total daily work time is less than three and a half hours. Your rest break obligation ensures that you will allow your employees the opportunity to take their breaks. Still, the accountability falls on your employee. 

HR for Health’s software offers an auto-notification to employees every time they clock in, and it reminds them to take their rest/meal breaks on time. Schedule a consultation to learn more about California Meal Break Waiver and Notifications.

Rest Break Rules in Accordance with Hours Worked:  

  • Less than 3.5 hours. No rest break is required. 
  • 3.5 to 6 hours. One ten-minute rest period is required. 
  • 6 to 10 hours. Two ten-minute rest breaks are required for a total of 20 minutes of paid rest breaks. 
  • 10 to 12 hours. Three ten-minute rest breaks are required for a total of 30 minutes of paid rest breaks. 

California allows employees to waive their meal break if they are scheduled to work 6 hours or less. Best practice is to complete a waiver for each instance/day that a meal break will be waived. If your employee has a schedule that waives their break every day, you can consider completing one form each week, noting each day of the week. 


Recommended Readings 📃

Alternate Work Schedules and Alternative Workweek Elections


Meal Break: 

The requirement for meal breaks is rigid. Even if an employee works one minute beyond the 5 hours of work, the meal break is no longer compliant. When you’re non-compliant, you owe a penalty to your employee.

Here are the rules in terms of hours worked:

  • Less than 5 hours. No meal break is required.
  • 5 to 10 hours. One meal break is required.
  • 10 to 15 hours. Two meal breaks are required.
  • 15 to 20 hours. Three meal breaks are required.  

From a financial standpoint, you should pay your employee as the penalties take place to distribute your "penalty payments.” If you wait until your employee leaves your practice, you will need to pay a lump sum of owed penalties in one payment. Schedule a consultation to learn more about our timekeeping software.

California’s Day of Rest Requirement  

Legally, you can dictate the work schedule and hours of your employees. You may also discipline your employees if they refuse to work overtime that was scheduled. You cannot, however, discipline an employee for refusing to work on the 7th consecutive day of work in a workweek. 

You may be subject to a penalty for causing or inducing your employee to forego a day of rest. If your employee is “fully apprised of the entitlement to rest,” they can decide not to take a day of rest with a California Meal Break Waiver. 

California Meal Break and Rest Law: What You Need to Know to NOT Break the Law

California’s Break Time for Lactating Mothers in Your Healthcare Practice 

When and where possible, your employees should use their breaks to accommodate lactation. Then, if they need additional time, they can take it as an unpaid additional break.   

Which California Employees Are Entitled to Meal and Rest Periods? 

All non-exempt (hourly) employees are entitled to meal and rest break periods under California Meal Break Law.   

What Happens If You Deny Meal Breaks or Rest Breaks at Your Healthcare Practice? 

If you deny meal and rest breaks to your employees, your penalties can quickly add up. The penalty for a non-compliant break in California is equivalent to one hour at your employee's hourly rate. For example, if your assistant earns $15/hour, the penalty for noncompliance is $15. If your employees receive non-discretionary payments like incentives or bonuses, you need to account for that calculation of your penalty. 

If you're denying breaks to an employee, who leaves your healthcare practice and lodges a complaint, you will be responsible for non-compliance penalties. The penalty amount changes with the employee’s position and the hourly rate they earn. You could also be penalized with waiting time penalties for not paying the entirety of that final paycheck money within the required timeframe per the state

That money is owed to your employee at the time of their separation from employment, on their final day of work. You incur "waiting time penalties," equaling a day's worth of wages for each day the payment is late. The penalties max out at 30 calendar days. 

Why You Should Understand California Meal Break Law

California Meal Break and Rest Law: What You Need to Know to NOT Break the Law

It’s possible, even likely, that you may not have taken your compliance with California Meal Break Law as seriously as you should. The laws are constantly changing, and there are so many other considerations to consider. Schedule a consultation to gain deeper insight into the  California Meal Break Law and other potential legal pitfalls your practice could face. 

How HR for Health Can Help

HR for Health works with you to help you and your employees using convenient online documents and on-demand HR advising and support services. We provide services to help you handle compliance with California Meal Break and Rest Break Law. We have accurate, paperless timekeeping that makes tracking meal breaks much more easily. With our experience and background, we make sure you’re compliant. It’s important for your practice, but it benefits you and your employees too.   

If you have questions about compliance, tracking, or other questions, please reach out to us. Schedule a consultation today to learn how we can help your practice scale with timekeeping software, legal compliance, expert support and advice, and much more.

Schedule an HR Consultation