Coyle Browne Law


What Happens if My Employer Doesn’t Give Me Meal Breaks?

Are you familiar with the legalities surrounding meal breaks for workers in California? Knowing your rights as an employee can ensure adherence to fair labor standards, offering protection from any potential workplace misconduct.

California Meal Break Laws

With California’s meal break laws, you are entitled to a block of uninterrupted time to enjoy your meals during the workday. When your shift exceeds five hours, legally you must receive no less than a thirty-minute meal period from your employer.

However, this requirement comes with some conditions; for it to be considered an “off duty” meal break, it requires complete relief from all your work duties and responsibilities during this entire 30-minute span. Additionally, you should also be free to leave the workplace premises if desired.

If your employer mandates that you stay within the confines of your work site or facility during a meal break, this time should be considered as paid time.

This holds true even if you’re relieved from all work duties and responsibilities during this meal period. In such cases, despite it being a ‘break,’ the fact that you’re required to remain on-site and are not free to spend it as you wish means it must be paid time. 

Exceptions To Meal Breaks

An “on-duty” meal period is an exception to the off-duty break rule and can only occur under specific circumstances. California law stipulates that this type of arrangement may be permissible when the nature of your work prevents you from being relieved of all duties during your mealtime, or if there is a written agreement between you and your employer confirming this arrangement. You would continue to perform tasks or responsibilities while eating during such periods.

An “on-duty” meal period can sometimes be seen in professions such as an individual working alone at a coffee kiosk, a worker running an overnight convenience store single-handedly, or a security guard assigned to monitor a remote site without any co-workers nearby.

In these scenarios, stepping away from the responsibilities for an uninterrupted off-duty meal break could risk leaving the respective workplace unattended and vulnerable to potential issues.

Employer Consequences For Failing to Provide Meal Breaks

If your employer fails to provide you with a required meal break, California law has a provision that penalizes the employer by requiring them to pay you one extra hour of wages for each workday that the designated meal period was not offered. This penalty is calculated at your regular rate — the same hourly wage you receive for standard working hours.

This additional hour of pay that your employer owes you for not providing a meal break is considered as a penalty, not as compensation for hours worked. Therefore, it won’t impact the total number of “hours worked” in calculations determining any overtime pay that is due to you.

If your employer neglects to pay the additional one-hour wage for missed meal breaks, you have legal recourse; you can file a wage claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE).

This group handles these types of claims and works towards resolving wage disputes in California. As part of this process, they should investigate your claim by reviewing records or conducting interviews before deciding on an appropriate action based on their findings.

If you need help with a wage claim or any related matter, contact our San Diego unpaid meal attorney today to schedule a free consultation.  

More from the blog


Free consultation by a lawyer. If we can take your case, there are no up front costs or fees.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.