Landmark California Decision Case Establishes Employer Obligations For Meal And Rest Breaks

In the recently published case of Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, the California Supreme Court made an important decision on the duties of California employers.

The central issue facing the California Supreme Court was whether an employer must ensure that an employee is not working during a meal break, or must merely make meal periods available to employees. Under California wage law, an employee is entitled to at least 30 minutes of meal period for a work period of more than 5 hours. In order to truly qualify as an "off duty" meal period (and thus be unpaid), the employee must be relieved of all duty and be uninterrupted during the entire break period. In effect, the employee must be free to attend to any personal business he or she may choose during the meal period.

The Court ultimately held that an employer is obligated to provide the employee with a meal period during which the employee is relieved of all duties and provided with a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break. However, the employer is not obligated to monitor meal breaks and to ensure that no work is performed during the meal breaks.

The California Supreme Court maintained that the employee must be given a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break. The Court noted that the employer may not "impede or discourage" the employee from taking an appropriate meal period break, nor may the employer pressure the employee to perform his or her duties in a way that omits breaks. This issue was a primary concern in the decision, especially among commission-based job placements, where company culture often encourages working through break periods.

The Court also specified that the employer must allow the employee to take the first meal period, no later than the start of the employee's fifth hour of work, and the second meal period after no more than 10 hours of work.

Another issue the Court faced was how much time must be provided for employee rest periods. Rest periods are breaks that the employee must be given, separate and apart from the meal breaks. The Court concluded that employees are entitled to 10 minute rest periods for shifts ranging between three and one-half to six hours in length, 20 minutes for shifts between six hours and 10 hours, and 30 minutes for shifts between 10 and 14 hours in duration.

The Court also reviewed the issue of when the rest period breaks must be taken. In doing so, the Court found that the rest periods should fall in the middle of work periods "insofar as practicable." The Court noted that, in the context of the standard eight-hour shift, one rest break should always land on either side of the meal break.

If you are not being permitted by your employer to take meal and rest breaks, please contact the attorneys at Lara & Luna APC for a consultation.