California law requires that employers allow employees to take a meal period of not less than one-half hour for every five hours worked, with an additional meal period permitted of not less than one-half hour after ten hours worked.
Meal periods must be off-duty, which means the employee is not under the control of the employer. There are exceptions, however. For example, if the nature of the work prevents the employee from being relieved of all duties, the employee and employer agree in writing to an off-duty meal period, but only with an agreement that specifically provides the employee may revoke the agreement at any time. If an employee is not allowed to leave the employer's premises, this too is likely a violation of the law with limited exceptions. California courts have liberally interpreted meal periods in favor of employees.
An employer must pay an additional one hour of “premium pay” for each missed meal period. Time records showing a meal period violation create a rebuttable presumption that the meal period was missed in violation of the law.