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CA Employers NOT Obligated to Police Meal Breaks under Brinker

On April 12, 12, the California Supreme Court in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (SC S1663504/12/12) finally decided the longstanding question of whether California employers are required to police their employees to ensure that they take no work is performed during their meal period.

In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court resolved uncertainty over the scope of the employer’s obligation to provide employees meal and rest periods under the Industrial Welfare Commission’s (IWC) wage orders and California’s Labor Code. The Court concluded that employers have a duty to relieve employees of all duty during the meal period so that employees are free to use it for whatever purposes they choose. However, the court held that neither the labor code nor the IWC wage orders compel California employers to ensure that no work is done during meal periods. The court summarized employers meal period obligations as follows:

“The employer satisfies this obligation if it relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities and permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so.[...]the employer is not obligated to police meal breaks and ensure no work thereafter is performed. Bona fide relief from duty and the relinquishing of control satisfies the employer’s obligations, and work by a relieved employee during a meal break does not thereby place the employer in violation of its obligations and create liability for premium pay.”

Further, the court decided a related issue regarding when meal periods must be provided. The court held that, absent a meal break waiver, a first meal break must fall no later than five hours into an employee’s shift, but an employer need not schedule meal breaks at five hour intervals through the shift.

With respect to rest periods, the court determined that employees are entitled to 10 minutes of rest for shifts from 3 ½ -6 hours long, and another 10 minute break for shifts from 6-10 hours long. These rest breaks do not have to fall specifically before or after any meal period. Employers must make a good faith effort to authorize and permit rest breaks in the middle of each work period, “but may deviate from that preferred course where practical considerations render it infeasible.”

For more information, attend a free webinar on Monday, April 23, 2012 from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. PDT, hosted by Ethos Human Capital Solutions and Merhab Robinson & Jackson, A Professional Corporation. To sign up, click on this link: http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07e5tfagqh0aa95b93&llr=6ogfnocab

Categories: Legal Updates