California Labor Laws Regarding Breaks & Mealtimes

By Jane Amar
California labor laws provide employee benefits that are lacking under federal laws.

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According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act does not mandate break times or lunch breaks. However, the California Labor Code has created break and lunch rest period rights for Californians. The Industrial Welfare Commission promulgates break and rest time rules based on the California Labor Code. Their rulings are enforced by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

Break Time Authority

The California Labor Code does not specify required break times. However, Section 516 of the California Labor Code delegates authority to the Industrial Welfare Commission to issue work orders that detail the rest-break rules California employers must follow for their employees. The Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) has issued 17 work orders covering the working conditions, including breaks, for different job categories.

Break Time Orders

Item 12 in each California Industrial Welfare Commission order regulates breaks for that employee category. IWC Work Order 4-2001 covers most employees in California, including those in the professional, clerical, mechanical and technical jobs ranging from artists, editors, guides, hosts and nurses to librarians and dental technicians. The order provides employees a 10-minute break, preferably in the middle of any four-hour work period. If the total hours worked are three and one-half hours or less, no rest break is due. Employers cannot deduct break times from hours worked. Different rules apply to some categories such as employees providing child care. Per IWC Order 5-2001 item 12, these employees may postpone or interrupt breaks to ensure children are supervised.

Lactation Accommodation Law

California Labor Code Section 1030 requires employers, including government employers other than federal, to accommodate mothers who need to use their rest breaks to pump breast milk. Lactation breaks can be concurrent with the regular employee breaks required during each four hours of work. If employees need additional breaks the employer may accommodate them but without pay. Employers are exempt from the requirement if allowing extra breaks would seriously disrupt the company's business.

Meal Period Law

Section 512 of California's Labor Law requires employers to allow an unpaid 30-minute work break in a workday of at least five hours. However, the employer and employee can mutually agree to waive the lunch break if the total workday will not exceed six hours. A workday of 10 hours requires a second 30-minute lunch period although the employer and employee can waive the second lunch break if the total work hours will not exceed 12 hours -- provided the employee took her first lunch. Exceptions apply to some categories of employees such as those in the broadcasting industry who have collective bargaining agreements covering meal periods. The employer must pay the employee for the time spent at lunch if the employee was still "on duty" because her work required continuous presence.

Rule Enforcement Laws

Under California Labor Code Section 226.7, employees receive an additional hour of pay at their regular hourly rate if an employer does not provide required rest breaks or meal times. Per Labor Code Section 1033, employers who fail to accommodate a new mother's need to express milk can incur fines of $100. Repeated offenses can receive fines of $250.

About the Author

Jane Amar received a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish language and literature from the University of California in Riverside in 1970. After more than 37 years in government service in management and technical positions, she retired and began her writing career. Since 2007 she has written online content in English and Spanish for profit and nonprofit services and individual entrepreneurs.