10-Minute Rest Breaks in California

California employment law requires employers to give non-exempt employees (which means “hourly” employees) one 10-minute rest break for every four hours of work. This break is paid and must be “uninterrupted” – meaning the boss can’t ask the employee to do any work during the break. The break should fall close to the middle of the four hour shift, not at the very beginning or end. Employee’s may voluntarily elect to skip their break, but if the company forces the worker to skip the break, that employee is owed one additional hour of premium pay as a penalty.

Branigan made the below whiteboard video to explain CA’s rest break law to non-lawyers. After you watch it, make sure that you read the rest of this page to get a complete picture of how rest break law plays out in the real world.

How Many Rest Breaks do CA Employees Get?

It depends on the length of their shift. Most of California’s wage orders provide for 10 minutes of rest for each four-hour work period (or major fraction thereof). This means that a second rest break must be provided if the employee worked over six hours, and so on.

  • Hourly employees who work less than 3.5 hours in a shift don’t get a 10-minute rest period.
  • Hourly employees who work between 3.5 and 6 hours get one uninterrupted 10-minute break period.
  • Hourly employees who work between 6 and 10 hours get two uninterrupted 10-minute rest periods.
  • Hourly employees who work between 10 and 14 hours get three uninterrupted 10-minute break periods.

Unfortunately, many employees across California are rarely granted a break, if at all. But make sure you check the applicable wage order for your industry before you run off to the labor board to file a claim for unpaid wages. There may be exceptions in the applicable wage order for your industry. If your employer forces you to skip the break, you are owed a hour of pay. Over time, the premium pay can add up to a substantial amount. A experienced rest break lawyer will be able to calculate this amount.

Rest Break Lawyer for CA Employees | Branigan Robertson


Do I need a lawyer for rest break violations?

The best way to illustrate is by example:

If you make $30/hr and your boss doesn’t let you take a 10-minute break within a 3.5 – 4hr period, your boss is supposed to compensate your with one hour of premium pay ($30) on top of the hours you worked that day. Upon learning about this, most rational people say, “I’m not going to sue my boss for $30 bucks.” Very true. However, you might want to file a claim against your boss if you add up all those penalties.

That $30 penalty applies per day. And if you add them all up, that could be a lot of money. Let say you’ve been denied two rest breaks every day for the past three years (not uncommon).  You could be owed $48,600. If you add that to a few other wage and hour violations, such as meal break violations, unpaid overtime, or record keeping violations, that number could hit $100,000 with ease. That might motivate you to contact an employment lawyer.

If the amount that you are owed is small, you may find it difficult to find a lawyer like Mr. Robertson to take your case. After all, contingency lawyers only get paid a percentage. If the case is too small the lawyer won’t get paid much of anything for the amount of work that is required to pursue these cases. Therefore, if you can’t find a lawyer, we highly encourage people to file their claim with the labor board. This is a great way for small amounts to be collected without having to pay a substantial percentage to a lawyer. Do note, however, that if you are owed a large amount of unpaid wages a private lawyer is far more effective at maximizing your recovery.

California Rest Break Lawyer

Here are a few more details on rest breaks: The break must be a paid break. Your boss can’t deduct 10 minutes from your hours worked every time you go for a stretch, smoke, or stroll.  Also, to the extent possible, you have to take the break near the middle of each work period. This is flexible, though. Lastly, you don’t have to take the break if you don’t want (provided your boss isn’t ‘encouraging’ or forcing you not too).