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Weird Work Schedules: Your Right to Breaks and Overtime

In the US, the 9-to-5 weekday work schedule is often considered the default. However, the number of jobs that actually abide by this rule of thumb are in the minority. As consumers expect more businesses to be open for longer hours, traditional eight-hour workdays and five-day workweeks have become less common. Instead, many employers expect workers to show up earlier and stay longer.

This has led to many alternative schedules in various industries. For example, healthcare workers are often asked to take on twelve-hour shifts. Truck drivers are expected to make deliveries as quickly as possible, even if that means driving during odd hours. People in fields like emergency services may be on-call for 24 hours at a time. 

These non-standard schedules don’t fit neatly within many worker protection regulations. However, people working these shifts have the same rights to safe and healthy schedules as anyone else. Here’s what you need to know about laws regarding non-standard work schedules and your protections under California law. 

Can Employers Require Non-Standard California Work Schedules?

No federal or California laws prevent employers from requiring non-standard work schedules in an employment contract. As long as an employer follows the rules regarding overtime, breaks, rest periods, and other mandatory benefits, they can require employees to work any schedule that’s not explicitly banned. This includes:

  • Requiring workers to perform 12-hour shifts
  • Mandating six- or seven-day workweeks
  • Requiring workers to be on-call
  • Ordering employees to switch to nights instead of days or vice versa

Of course, workers can also refuse to work on a schedule they do not like. If they refuse, their employer can fire them for refusing to do the work but cannot otherwise penalize them. 

There are a few exceptions to what shifts employers can require in California. Employers are bound by the employment contract terms just as workers are. If the contract states that a worker is guaranteed a certain schedule, the employer cannot change it without having the employee sign a new contract. Similarly, if an employee is barred from working overtime by their contract, their employer cannot fire them for refusing to do it.

Furthermore, industries with unions may have company-wide agreements dictating how much work members may be required to do. If a business attempts to breach this agreement, the union can take action against it. Finally, California law permits employees to refuse mandatory overtime without risk to their job if:

  • They believe they are a safety risk if they keep working
  • They are asked to do overtime on the seventh consecutive day of work
  • They are asked to work more than 72 hours in a workweek after working overtime two weeks in a row

California Requirements for Irregular Work Schedules

Your employer can legally require you to follow a non-standard or irregular work schedule. However, during that schedule, they cannot violate break requirements and other safety regulations. 


The general overtime rules are simple. Employers must pay hourly workers one and a half times their normal rate if they work more than eight hours in a workday or more than six days in a workweek. Furthermore, workers are eligible for double their normal rate if they are required to work more than 12 hours a day or more than eight hours on the seventh day of work during a workweek.

California law recognizes two alternative workweek schedules that can change these requirements, though:

  • Four days of ten hours each
  • Three days of twelve hours each

Both of these schedules are considered valid, and employers must not pay workers time and a half for working more than eight but less than 12 hours if they agree to them in their contract. However, if employees working these schedules must perform more than 40 hours a week, whether by working longer shifts or coming in on days off, employers must pay them time and a half for those additional hours. Furthermore, employees must still be paid double time for working more than 12 hours in a day. 

Failing to pay appropriate overtime is a wage and hour violation, and workers have the right to take legal action against their employer to receive the wages they’re owed.


Unlike federal laws, employment laws in California require employers to provide non-exempt workers with paid and unpaid breaks for most shifts. If someone works more than three and a half hours, they get at least one paid 10-minute rest break. The specific requirements include the following:

  • One paid 10-minute rest break 
  • Two paid rest breaks for shifts between six and 10 hours long
  • Three paid breaks for 10-14-hour-long shifts
  • Four or more paid breaks for shifts that exceed 14 hours 
  • One unpaid 30-minute meal break for shifts of six to 10 hours long
  • Two unpaid 30-minute meal breaks for shifts longer than 10 hours

These breaks cannot overlap. If an employer fails to provide these breaks to workers, they owe the employee one full hour of pay for every break that is not received. 

Is Your Work Schedule Violating Your Rights?

In California, non-exempt workers have the right to paid and unpaid breaks and overtime. If your employer requires you to work more than your normal schedule without paying overtime or fails to give you breaks, it may violate your rights. If so, you should get in touch with the expert attorneys at the Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman, PC. Our San Diego employment law attorneys understand federal and California overtime and shift length regulations. We can help you determine if you’re being paid fairly for your California work shift length and help you pursue back pay for unpaid overtime if you aren’t. Learn more about how our San Diego wage and hour law firm can help you by scheduling your consultation today.

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