California law provides that for every four hours of work, an employee must be allowed a ten minute rest break. The employer is not obligated to ensure one is taken, and the employee may opt to not take a rest break. An employer also may require an employee to remain on work premises during a rest period.
It is unclear when the rest period should be taken. It is not required by law that a rest period be taken after a four hour work period, only that a rest period is permitted for every four hours worked.
In 2012, the California Supreme Court decided an important meal and rest break case, Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court. The question of whether employers must ensure breaks are taken or must simply provide breaks has been a source of significant litigation in both federal and state courts. The California Supreme Court ruled in Brinker’s favor on the most critical part of the decision – holding that employers do not have to ensure employees take their meal breaks. Once the meal period is provided, there is no duty to police meal breaks to ensure no work is being done. This case has been, in an usual act by the court, “depublished” pending subsequent filings. Although depublished, California courts have followed the decision and cited to the Brinker decision.