Meal Periods, Rest Periods, and Recovery Periods

Meal Periods

Generally, in California, an employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with an uninterrupted, off-duty meal period of not less than thirty minutes, except that if the total work period per day of the employee is no more than six hours, the meal period may be waived by mutual written consent of both the employer and employee.  Similarly, employers may not employ employees for a work period of more than 10 hours per day without providing the employee with a second meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that if the total hours worked is no more than 12 hours the second meal period may be waived by mutual written consent of both the employer and employee.

Not every industry or occupation has the same rules; there are different wage orders per industry/occupation.  For example, in the motion picture industry, the time limits for meal periods are every 6 hours, and in the broadcasting industry, the time limits are every 5 hours.  Even so, a valid collective bargaining agreement in these industries could alter these timing requirements and the available remedies.

Rest Periods

In California, employees must be given 10-minute net rest periods for every 4 hours of work, to be taken in the middle of each 4-hour period insofar as practicable.  However, a rest period need not be provided for employees whose total daily work is less than 3.5 hours.  Thus, employees are entitled to one 10-minute net rest period for shifts from 3.5 to 6 hours in length, two for shifts of more than 6 hours up to 10 hours, and three for shifts of more than 10 hours up to 14 hours, and so on.  These rest periods must be paid.  Thus, for employees paid by piece-rate or commission, the employer must separately compensate the employees for rest periods, at the higher of: (a) the employee’s average hourly rate; or (b) the applicable minimum wage.

Rest breaks represent a state-mandated minimum labor standard – they cannot be waived by contract.  However, not every industry or occupation is treated the same; the applicable wage order should be reviewed.  For example, swimmers, dancers, skaters, and other performers in the motion picture industry who are engaged in strenuous physical activities must have additional interim rest periods during periods of actual rehearsal or shooting.  Additionally, employers of employees working in on-site occupations of construction, drilling, logging, and mining are permitted more flexibility in scheduling rest periods.  Moreover, employees with direct responsibility for children who are under 18 years of age, or who are not emancipated from the foster care system and who are receiving 24-hour residential care, as well as employees of 24-hour residential care facilities for elderly, blind, or developmentally disabled individuals, may be required to remain on the premises and maintain general supervision of residents during rest periods if the employee is in sole charge of residents.

Recovery Periods

A recovery period is a paid cool-down period afforded an employee to prevent heat illness.  Employees must be allowed and encouraged to take a cool-down period in the shade for no less than 5 minutes at a time when they feel the need to do so to protect themselves from overheating.  Just like the rest period premium, (a) there is a recovery period premium for failure provide recovery periods, and (b) those employees who are paid by piece-rate or commission must be paid separately for their recovery periods.


For a free consultation about your employment law claim, contact us today