Meal Breaks

As a business owner in San Diego, I understand how vital it can be to have your employees take their breaks when customers are not requesting service. But the reality is, you are required to give your employees a break at certain intervals throughout the day. If you do not uphold these standards, you will be held financially responsible. So when are these intervals? And how can I avoid repercussions?

There are two primary time stamps you need to keep an eye on when determining breaks – Rest and Meal.

Rest Breaks
Nonexempt employees in California are entitled to a 10-minute paid rest period for every four hours worked “or significant fraction thereof.” Work periods of more than two hours are a “significant fraction” of four hours, according to California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), but a rest period isn’t needed if an employee’s average regular work time is less than three and a half hours.

Employees are entitled to a “net” 10-minute rest period. This means that workers can take their rest breaks in a location away from the work area near the middle of each four-hour work day. If your employee has to make their way through the work area so they can reach the break room for their rest time, I recommend starting their 10-minute period the moment they reach their destination.

Meal Breaks
For every five hours worked, employees are entitled to a 30-minute unpaid meal break. If they work for less than six hours, they are allowed to forfeit their right to a meal break. After 10 hours, a second break is needed, but it can be skipped if the first one was taken.

All meal breaks must be taken before the end of the fifth hour in an employee’s shift. So if your employee clocks in at 10 AM, they must be clocked out by 2:59 PM for their Meal Break.

And do your best to not schedule their Meal Breaks too close to the last minute. There are several factors that might change some of this math that you should take into consideration. For example, does the employee clock in a few minutes before their day technically starts? If so, this might lead them to clocking out after the five hour period. This is why you should schedule some buffer time before the employee is required to clock out for their meal.

On-Duty Meal

You and your employee may also work out an On-Duty Meal period if that works for the both of you. Only when the existence of the position prohibits an employee from being relieved of all duties and the employer and employee agree in writing to an on-the-job paid meal period is an on-duty meal period allowed. The employee is free to terminate this agreement at any time.

Examples of professions that might include an On-Duty Meal period includes Cashiers and Security Guards.


So, what happens if workers aren’t given their breaks? They are entitled to one hour of pay for each day  the rest-period rule was violated and one hour of pay for each day the meal-period rule was violated. Employees can earn up to two hours of premium pay a day in this way. The amount will be based off of the employee’s hourly pay-rate.

So when you are scheduling your employees, make sure that you are giving them their breaks appropriately. To help ensure that you are sufficiently staffed during your peak hours, keep an eye on the amount of transactions you are processing per hour and design your schedule around that. You should also make sure that your management team understands that there are consequences for breaking these rules. This will ensure that your business thrives in the San Diego area.

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