The California Supreme Court just announced a big class action employment decision in Brinker Rest. Corp. v. Superior Court. The decision clarifies some laws as they pertain to employers and employees, and sets forth a simple three part test for meal period compliance.
The Court specifically held that employer satisfies [its meal period compliance] obligation if it (1) relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities and (2) permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and (3) does not impede or discourage them from doing so. What will suffice may vary from industry to industry, and we cannot in the context of this class certification proceeding delineate the full range of approaches that in each instance might be sufficient to satisfy the law. Slip op. at 36 (emphasis added) (citing Cicairos v. Summit Logistics, Inc. (2005) 133 Cal.App.4th 949; see Id at 31 (“Employers must afford employees uninterrupted half-hour periods in which they are relieved of any duty or employer control and are free to come and go as they please.”); id. at 6, 27 (describing rejected employer argument that “an employer is obligated only to ‘make available’ meal periods”).
The Court declined to accept the final additional bit of the Plaintiffs argument, that employers must also “prohibit work” during meal periods. Slip op. at 33. The Court rejected the employers’ contention that meals need only be “offered.” According to many news articles, Brinker is claimed to have held that “[e]mployers must only make meal-and-rest breaks available,” which is an incomplete reading of the opinion. The California Supreme Court rejected that argument, holding instead that employers must take significant affirmative steps beyond making meal periods “available.”
There are a number of other quick holdings that employees and employers need to take away from the ruling:
First, the Court reaffirmed that meal and rest period lawsuits are often suitable for class treatment (which simply means many employees can sue the employer together as opposed to each filing separate lawsuits).
Second, the Court set out clear guidelines for employers regarding the number and timing of rest breaks, upholding the trial court’s decision to authorize a class action on those claims. The Court found that, the first meal period must be provided after no more than five hours of work. If an employee is entitled to a second meal period, the employer must provide it after no more than ten hours of work.
Third, the court also clarified what it means for an employer to “provide” a meal period. It means that the employer (1) relieves the employee of all duty for an (2) uninterrupted thirty minute period [for example permits the employee to leave the work premises] and (3) does not discourage the break. The employer does not need to ensure that no work is done during the meal period, but must pay the employee at his or her regular rate if the employee works through his or her meal period. If an employee is forced to work through their meal period a regular hour of premium pay is due as provided by the Labor Code § 226.7.
Fourth, the court addressed rest periods. Employers in California are obligated to provide rest periods. The question is “when?” The Court held that an employee is owed a ten minute rest period for every portion of four hours worked after an employee works three and a half hours. In a nutshell, employees are entitled to ten minutes of rest for shifts from three and a half to six hours, twenty minutes for shifts of more than six hours up to ten hours, and thirty minutes for shifts of more than ten hours up to fourteen hours, and so on.
This Court decision has answered many questions that lawyers, employees, and employers have regarding meal and rest breaks. Normally California employers are required to pay premium pay for missed meal and rest periods. Employers looking to update their policies and Employee Handbooks or have them reviewed to ensure they are in compliance, should contact Quintilone & Associates at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on seeking payment for missed meal and rest periods or off the clock work as well as reimbursement of business expenses and whether you have a potential claim, please contact Quintilone & Associates at email@example.com