California Supreme Court Issues Major Employment Law Decision

Earlier today California Supreme Court released its long-awaited decision in Brinker v. Superior Court, clarifying an employer’s obligations with regards to meal and rest break requirements for hourly employees.  This decision affects almost every California employer, and all employers should carefully review their policies and practices to ensure they are in compliance.  Overall, this ruling is good for employers and demonstrates a common-sense application of the law.  Here’s the Court’s ruling in a nutshell:

Meal Breaks:
Employer’s Obligation:  Each employer must provide hourly employees with uninterrupted 30-minute breaks, in which employees are free from employer control.  In a real-world ruling, the Court held that an employer need not “police” its employees to make sure no work is performed.
Timing of Meal Breaks:  Absent a valid waiver, employers must provide meal breaks to hourly employees no later than the end of the 5th hour of work.  If an employee is entitled to a second meal break during a shift, the second meal break must be provided before the end of the 10th hour.  This means if an employee’s shift is 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., the employee must be provided a meal break no later than 12:59 p.m.  (Waivers are allowed in very limited cases, but you should check with your legal counsel for guidance.)
Early Lunch and Rolling 5-Hour Issue:  There is no rolling five hour requirement.  This means if an employee works 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and takes an early lunch at 9:30 a.m., there is no requirement to provide a second 30-minute meal break, even though the employee will work more than 5 hours after the meal.   No second meal is required unless an employee works more than 10 hours in a shift.
Rest Breaks: 
Amount of Rest Break and When to Take it:  Hourly employees are entitled to a 10 minute paid rest break for every four hours of work or major fraction thereof.  The Court has ruled that this means employees are entitled to a total of 10 minutes net rest for shifts from 3.5 to 6 hours, 20 minutes for shifts 6 to 10 hours, 30 minutes for shifts of 10 to 14 hours, and so on.  Rest breaks should fall in the middle of each four hour work period “insofar as practicable” but may deviate “where practical considerations render it infeasible.”  There is no requirement that rest periods come before or after a meal break.
While these rulings help clarify employers’ legal obligations, the issue of how to track the breaks remains unclear.  In a separate concurring opinion the Court emphasized the employer’s affirmative obligation to have a record of when employees take meal breaks.  This is a good time to review your time keeping policies for meal breaks.  Please contact Greg Walsh ([email protected]) or Jennifer Phillips at ([email protected]) with questions about this ruling’s impact on your business as well as any other employment-related questions. 
Copyright Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty at www.lexvini.com