Employers are required to give California nonexempt employees, who work more than five hours in a workday, a full 30 minute uninterrupted off duty lunch break or meal period before exceeding 5 hours of working (unless they pay each employee an additional hour of wages for each workday where a compliant meal period was not provided).
However, unlike California’s requirement that employees take 10-minute rest periods in the middle of each 4-hour work period insofar as practicable, California has not imposed a specific requirement for when employers are supposed to provide lunch breaks. Accordingly, employers get to choose when they provide lunch breaks for nonexempt employees, as long as the lunch breaks occur before the employees exceed five hours of work.
Unfortunately, this means employees generally do not have any rights to determine when they will take lunch breaks at work. Further, employers can actually decide to never provide 30-minute uninterrupted off duty lunch breaks or meal periods, and just pay each nonexempt employee an additional one hour of regular rate pay as a wage premium for every workday where the employee does not receive a legally compliant meal period or lunch break.