In looking over current laws related to meals and breaks on the job, I found that California is one of 19 states regulating meals and breaks for employees.
For all employees working 5 hours or more consecutively, California state law stipulates that a meal period of 30 minutes or more must be provided. This does not apply if the total work per day of the employee is six hours or less and the right to take a meal break is mutually waived by both the worker and the employer. A second meal period of 30 minutes or more is required if the employee works 10 hours or more. This may again be mutually waived if the total working time for the day is less than 12 hours and only if the first meal period was not waived.
This 30 minute meal break may generally be unpaid, but only if the employee is completely relieved of his or her duties. If the worker must do any job duties during the meal break, or even if employees are required to stay on the job site during the break, it must instead be a paid meal break. An exception to this rule is sometimes found in situations where it is not practical for a worker to be completely relieved of his or her duties – for example, in the case of a gas station employee working the night shift alone. An “on-duty” meal period may be unpaid if both the employer and the employee agree to it in writing.
I also found it interesting that California law also mandates paid rest periods for non-exempt workers (typically these are employees paid hourly rather than on salary). For each four hour work period or “significant fraction thereof” (usually considered anything over two hours), a worker must be given a ten minute paid rest period. If an employee works less than three and a half hours in a given day, the rest period is not required. The law also stipulates that rest periods should be taken, as much as is practical, near the middle of that work period.
A thorough presentation of state and federal laws related to lunches and breaks may be found on the California Complete Labor Law Poster. This poster also presents the required notices for all areas of both state and federal labor laws.