April 16, 2012
There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch: California Supreme Court Determines that Employers Can’t Force Employees to Eat Lunch

Are You Providing Your Employees The Rest And Meal Periods Required By Law?
Employers Finally Given Some Guidance on Meal and Rest Breaks
Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court
Twelve years ago, in 2000, the State Legislature and the Industrial Welfare Commission (“IWC”) adopted monetary remedies for a denial of meal and rest breaks including the imposition of a “premium” wage.
Unfortunately, for many employers, the IWC did not give clear guidance to employers regarding the implementation of the meal break and rest breaks periods.  Notwithstanding the terrible economy and “anti-business” environment in California, the remaining employers in California were hit with a substantial amount of class action litigation and “wage and hour” litigation regarding the implementation of the IWC rules.  Many employers were faced with the dilemma that if you provide the employee with break time, can you force that employee to take the break, or can you force him/her to take a lunch if it is their free time?
Last Thursday, April 12, 2012, the Supreme Court of California handed down the highly anticipated decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court wherein the Supreme Court interpreted wage and hour laws regarding rest and meal periods. In Brinker, the Supreme Court held that the employer is required to provide the rest and meal breaks but the employer is not required to ensure the employee takes the break or ceases all work. 
To assist you, as an employer or employee, to ensure that the law is being followed, the Court’s ruling is broken down below, with the link to the full case provided below:
- Employees are entitled to rest breaks as follows:

  •   10 minutes for a shift lasting between 3.5 hours and 6 hours
  •   20 minutes for a shift lasting over 6 hours up to 10 hours
  •   30 minutes for a shift lasting over 10 hours up to 14 hours

- “Insofar as practicable” the rest breaks should occur in the middle of work periods
- The Court held, “In the context of an eight-hour shift, “as a general matter,” one rest break should fall on either side of the meal break.  
- The Court further held, “An employer is required to authorize and permit the amount of rest break time called for under the wage order for its industry.”
- “An employer must relieve the employee of all duty for the designated period, but need not ensure that the employee does no work.”
- An “off-duty” meal period must include:

  •   An uninterrupted 30 minute period;
  •   The employee being relieved of all duty; and
  •   The employee being permitted to leave the premises.

An employer satisfies its obligation if it:

  •   Relieves its employees of all duty;
  •   Relinquishes control over all activity;
  •   Permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break;
  •   And does not impede or discourage the employee from doing so.

- The Court stated, “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.”
- If the employer has provided the designated meal break but the employee continues work, the employer is not liable for “premium” pay but it is liable for straight pay, including overtime. This is true if the employer knew or reasonably should have known that the employee was working through the authorized meal period.
- Timing of the meal break:

  • First 30-minute meal break must be provided no later than the end of the 5th hour of work, unless the total shift is 6 hours or less and then the employer and employee can mutually waive the meal period.
  • Second 30-minutes meal break must be provided no later than the end of the 10th hour of work.
  • The Court held that IWC Wage Order No. 5 does not impose any additional timing requirements.

As an employer, it is your responsibility to provide the rest period and meal breaks for your employees. To make your employees aware of your company’s policy regarding breaks you may remind them to take their break and/or state in your employee handbook when breaks are allowed.  If, however, the rest and meal breaks are provided to the employees, it is their responsibility to take them.
For the full text of Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court please click here.
If you have any questions regarding your company’s policy, please do not hesitate to contact the Hartnett Law Group. You may wish to update your employee /personnel manuals to provide for the clarification of the IWC orders provided by the Supreme Court in Brinker.






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(Source: us4.campaign-archive2.com)