California Labor Code 226.7, 512 and a number of Wage Orders of IWC (Industrial Welfare Commission) prohibit employers from employing a worker for more than five hours without a meal period of not less than 30 minutes, and from employing an employee for more than ten hours per day without providing a second meal period of not less than 30 minutes.
Section 226.7 and the applicable wage orders also require employers to provide employees ten minutes of net rest time per four hours or major fraction thereof of work, and to pay employees their full wages during those rest periods. Unless the employee is relieved of all duty during the 30-minute meal period and ten-minute rest period, the employee is considered "on duty" and the meal period is counted as time worked under the applicable wage orders.
Under section 226.7(b), and employer who fails to provide a required meal period must, as compensation, pay the employee one hour of pay at the employee's regular rate of compensation for each workday that the meal period was not provided. Similarly, an employer must pay an employee denied a required rest period one hour of pay at the employee's regular rate of pay for each workday that the rest period was not provided.
There are numerous exemptions and exceptions that relieve California employers from the some legal duties with regards to providing their employee with rest and meal breaks. These exception usually apply to employees of such professions and in such environment where complying with the general rules would be unduly burdensome impracticable for the employer.
In the absence of an applicable exception, the following general rules apply to meal and rest breaks in California. An employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with a meal period of at least 30 minutes. However, if the total work day of the employee is sex hours or less, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee. It is very prudent for an employer to obtain such consent in writing in order to avoid subsequent claims for unpaid meal breaks, as the employer would normally have a burden of proving that he/she complied with the law.
Under California Labor Code 512, an employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than 10 hours per day without providing the employee with a second meal period of at least 30 minutes. However, if the total hours worked is no more than 12 hours, the second meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and the employee, but only if the first meal period was not waived.
The right to meal periods and penalties under California’s Labor Code applies, and has consistently applied, to workers who are members of a union and who are covered by collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). Moreover, the right to meal periods and penalties for violation of those rights is non-negotiable and cannot be waived.
California employees who work more than five hours in a day are entitled to a meal break of at least 30 minutes; and a second meal period of at least 30 minutes if they work more than 10 hours in a day. There are a few exceptions to this rule which mainly apply to workplace where such a break would be impossible or impracticable. (Examples include a gas station attendant who holds a shift alone, an employee at 7/11, etc.). Also, exceptions are provided for workers in the wholesale baking industry and motion picture and television industries.
The meal time itself does not count as part of the hours worked if the employee may leave the premises and is relieved of all duty during that period. Thus, if an employee has to stay at his workplace, he has to be compensated, regardless of the fact that he is allowed or encouraged to have lunch at his workplace.
An employer who fails to provide meal or rest periods as required by California Labor Code must pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay for each work day that the meal or rest period was not provided to the same employee.
The right to lunch breaks at work generally cannot be waived unless one of the exceptions, as mentioned above applies, and this right applies to workers covered by collective bargaining agreements. It is treated as a non-negotiable right, and federal law “does not permit parties to waive, in a collective bargaining agreement, non-negotiable state rights.”