Know Your Rights
on Wage Claims
Workers in California have the right to file a wage claim with the Division of Labor Standards
Enforcement when their employers do not provide the breaks or premiums required by
Breaks are fundamental to providing quality patient care and are protected under
California law. Studies have shown that taking breaks reduces nurses' physical and
mental fatigue and improves patient health outcomes.
Employees are generally entitled to 10 minutes of rest for every 4 hours worked.
"Insofar as practicable," the rest periods should be taken in the middle of each work period.
Failure to provide rest break: Employers must pay a premium— one additional hour of pay— at the employee's regular rate of pay for each day that sufficient rest periods are not provided.
Employees are entitled to at least one 30-minute unpaid meal period for shifts longer than 5 hours/day.
Failure to provide meal period: Employers must pay a premium—one additional hour of pay — at the employee's regular rate of pay for each workday that the meal period is not provided.
Estimating Missed Break Compensation
Here is an example of a rough estimate based on a regular rate of pay of $60/hour, with the following weekly schedule of three 12-hour shifts:
That’s $12,000 per year, assuming this employee worked around 50 weeks per year. The total estimated wage claim would be $36,000 going back three years.
Download a blank calendar to help you estimate your wage claim.
Q: Is the employer required to provide someone to give you a break?
A: Yes, providing someone to cover you is required in order to give you the opportunity to take your break.
Q: What if the unit is busy, and management asks me to come back after only taking 20 minutes for my lunch break?
A: You are entitled to a premium (one hour of additional pay). The meal break must be uninterrupted and duty-free.
Q: What if I voluntarily skip my meal period or rest break?
A: If it is truly voluntary and not coerced, then you are not entitled to a premium.
Q: My employer says that “net” ten minute break means that the break can be interrupted as long as the breaks total 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked. Is this correct?
A: No. According to the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, “[t]he rest period is defined as a ‘net’ ten minutes, which means that the rest period begins when the employee reaches an area away from the work area that is appropriate for rest.” The “net” only excludes travel time. It is NOT an excuse for your employer to cobble together several short breaks to avoid paying you a premium. It is well-established that rest breaks must be uninterrupted and duty free, just like meal periods.
Q: What protection do employees have against retaliation for filing a wage claim for missed breaks/meal periods?
A: There are robust protections under state and federal law. California Labor Code 98.6 specifically protects employees who file wage claims from being fired or discriminated against. Employers could be liable for $10,000 per violation, in addition to back wages if the employee was unlawfully terminated. Additionally, if the wage claim was part of a protected concerted action, firing the employee would be an unfair labor practice, and the National Labor Relations Board could order reinstatement and back pay.