State Meal/Rest Break Rules Include Limited, Industry-Specific Exceptions


Are there any exceptions to California’s meal and rest break rules?

As California employers know, employees in California are entitled to a 30-minute off-duty unpaid meal break for shifts greater than five hours, and a second 30-minute meal break for shifts over 10 hours.

In addition, employees are entitled to a 10-minute off-duty paid rest break for every four hours worked or major fraction thereof.

Although California’s meal and rest break requirements apply to the vast majority of employees working in California, there are some limited exceptions to those requirements.


Most of the exceptions are found in the Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders and are specific to certain industries or types of employees.

For example, different rules apply to certain residential care employees (Wage Order 5), employees in the health care industry (Wage Orders 4 and 5), employees in the motion picture industry (Wage Order 12), and employees in the on-site occupations of construction, drilling, logging and mining (Wage Order 16).

Employers should review the wage order that applies to their business to determine if any exceptions may apply to their employees.

Industry-Specific Exceptions

These exceptions can come from other places as well. For instance, California recently passed two laws that alter the meal and rest break requirements for certain employees in two industries:

• AB 2605 created a limited exception for required rest breaks in the petroleum industry, allowing employers to require that employees holding safety-sensitive positions at petroleum facilities be on-call and carry instant communication devices during rest periods. This exception applies only at petroleum facilities covered under Wage Order 1.

• AB 2610 established a meal period exception for commercial drivers who transport commercial feed to customers in remote, rural areas. These drivers are excluded from the obligation to provide a meal period within the required time period if the driver receives no less than one and one-half times the state minimum wage and overtime compensation when required by law.

In addition, in September 2018, the federal Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a Notice of Administrative Determination of Preemption finding, stating that the Federal Hazardous Material Transportation Law and the Hazardous Materials Regulations preempt California meal and rest break laws for drivers of motor vehicles that are transporting hazardous materials.

Proposition 11

Lastly, California voters passed Proposition 11, the Emergency Ambulance Employee Safety and Preparedness Act, on the November 6 ballot.

Proposition 11 amended the California Labor Code to create special requirements for “emergency ambulance employees” who work for private ambulance companies.

Emergency ambulance employees covered by the new law include emergency medical technicians (EMTs), dispatchers, paramedics, or other licensed or certified ambulance transport personnel who contribute to the delivery of ambulance services. This new law allows emergency ambulance employees to remain on call throughout the duration of their shifts, including during paid meal and rest breaks.

Employers with questions about whether any exceptions to California’s meal and rest break requirements may apply to their employees should consult with legal counsel.

Column based on questions asked by callers on the Labor Law Helpline, a service to California Chamber of Commerce preferred and executive members. For expert explanations of labor laws and Cal/OSHA regulations, not legal counsel for specific situations, call (800) 348-2262 or submit your question at

Staff Contact: Erika Pickles