Meal Breaks, Double-Time Pay and Paid Sick Leave in California

employment law

Meal breaks, double-time pay and paid sick leave. For most California employees these are familiar concepts. As a recent transplant from Michigan, these were all a little foreign to me in the realm of employment law.

California is one of the most employee focused states in the country, with many progressive employment laws differing from not only other states, but also federal regulations. Several concepts employees in California should be aware of include meal breaks, overtime and double-time pay and paid sick leave.

Meal Breaks:

Employees are entitled to an unpaid, uninterrupted and unrestricted meal break of a minimum of 30 minutes before five hours of work is completed. In addition, employees are entitled to a second meal break of 30 minutes if they work more than 10 hours in a day. Employees may request to waive their first meal break if their shift will be completed in 6 hours or less and their second meal break if the total hours worked on that workday is no more than 12 hours. Employees are responsible for taking timely, recorded meal breaks. However, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure these meal breaks are not only taken but also uninterrupted.

Overtime and Double-Time:

In addition to the federal overtime standard, time and a half after 40 hours worked in a week, California employees also receive overtime pay for work in excess of eight hours in a given workday. This means that employees can receive overtime pay even if they don’t work 40 hours in the week. California requires that the first 8 hours worked on the 7th consecutive day of a work week be paid at the overtime rate as well.Double time, two times an employee’s rate, will go into effect for all hours worked over 12 during a workday. Do keep in mind there are several instances where employees are not eligible for overtime pay. When an employee is classified as exempt, often this includes salaried employees and if an employee is working an alternative work schedule, such as four 10 hours days, they may not be eligible for overtime pay.

Paid Sick Leave:

Since 2015 California employees who work more than 30 days in a year, including part-time and temporary employees are entitled to paid sick leave. Although employers have the choice to select if paid sick leave is accrued or given at hire in a lump sum, the majority of paid sick leave plans in California are set on an accrual basis of 1 hour of sick time earned for every 30 hours worked. Keep in mind that employers are required to provide a minimum of 3 days of sick leave per year but some cities within California have decided to add their own more expansive paid sick leave plans. Employers also have a window of 90 days to decide when employees will be eligible to use their sick hours.

Employment law can be extremely complex and daunting for both employees and employers alike. Always be sure to thoroughly review a company’s handbooks to determine how they interpret not only these regulations but also other employment laws.



Shannon McDougall, SHRM-CP, Human Resources Account Specialist

3+ years in Human Resources in the Staffing Industry