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Meal and Rest Break Policy

September 21, 2021 2662

Employer considerations:

  1. It is the employer’s responsibility to communicate the meal and rest break laws to employees in writing.
  2. Employers are required to provide and encourage employees with rest breaks, but are not required to ensure they are taken. Employers are required to provide employees with meal breaks AND ensure they are taken. Employees should be discouraged from performing off-the-clock work during rest or meal breaks.
  3. Employees should be required to record the beginning and ending times of their meal breaks. The timekeeping system should record the actual hours of the employees meal break (no rounding). 
  4. The employee may waive his or her meal period if the day’s work will be completed in no more than six hours, provided you and the employee mutually consent to the waiver. It is a best practice to have this waiver in writing, but it is not required. 
  5. Since the rest break time is paid, the employee does not need to clock out. However, employers may want to consider having their timekeeping records reflect that the rest break was provided to the employee.
  6. Regularly audit your timecard records to determine whether employees are accurately reporting time and/or if there is a pattern of employees working through breaks.
  7. Educate scheduling coordinators and managers about their obligations relating to meal and rest breaks and discipline those who do not follow policy. Train employees not to interrupt employees during breaks.
  8. Inform employees that they should notify their employer or manager if they have been denied the opportunity to take a meal or rest break. Employees should not be required to report this only to their direct supervisor, as it may be the supervisor who is discouraging them from taking the break.
  9. Properly document missed meal and rest breaks.
  10. The employee’s meal break must occur no later than four hours and 59 minutes after the employee’s start time.
  11. Employees who are not provided a meal or rest break or are prevented from taking a meal or rest break are entitled to a missed meal or rest break premium of additional one hour of pay for each incident (The maximum penalty for missed meal breaks and missed rest breaks is two hours of pay per day, no matter how many meal or rest breaks were missed in the day). The additional time should be provided to the employee on the next regularly scheduled payroll date.
  12. Employers must provide employees uninterrupted time, relieve their employees of all duties during required rest periods and relinquish any control over how employees spend their break time.
  13. Employees may not be prohibited from leaving the premisis. 
  14. Consistently discipline employees who do not return from breaks within the required time. This is a disciplinary issue, not a pay issue. You still need to pay them appropriately.
  15. Should an employee’s time be interrupted, employers may reasonably reschedule a rest period when the need arises.
  16. Such circumstances should be “the exception rather than the rule.” If a rest period is interrupted, an employer can provide another rest period to replace the interrupted one or pay the premium pay of one additional hour of pay for the missed rest break.


For more information on meal and rest break laws visit California Department of Industrial Relations

It is an employers responsibility to have these specific policies in place. Vague or misunderstood policies put your practice at risk.