Finally some good news for employers!
The California Supreme Court just ruled on the Brinker case, and overall, it is very favorable to employers regarding both meal and rest periods.
For meal periods, the court concluded “… an employer’s obligation is to relieve its employee of all duty, with the employee thereafter at liberty to use the meal period for whatever purpose he or she desires, but the employer need not ensure that no work is done.”
Here are some additional details.
The California Supreme Court set forth a clear standard. To provide an off-duty meal period consistent with California law means to give the employee 30-minutes where he or she is free to do what he or she wants, whether or not the employee chooses to use that time for work:
"[The] meal period requirement is satisfied if the employee (1) has at least 30 minutes uninterrupted, (2) is free to leave the premises, and (3) is relieved of all duty for the entire period. . . 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."
Timing of Meal Period
The California Supreme Court stated that the only timing requirements are that (1) a first meal break must be provided after no more than five hours of work, and (2) a second meal break must be provided after no more than 10 hours of work. The final word of the unanimous Court was as follows:
"Wage Order No. 5 imposes no meal timing requirements beyond those in section 512. Under the wage order, as under the statute, an employer's obligation is to provide a first meal period after no more than five hours of work and a second meal period after no more than 10 hours of work."
Number of Rest Periods Owed
The Court adopted a rule that the number of work hours in a shift should be divided by 4 and rounded to the nearest whole number, and the employee is entitled to that number of rest periods, except that no rest period at all is required if the shift is less than 3-1/2 hours. So, the rule now is:
- for a shift under 3-1/2 hours, the employee gets no rest period;
- for a shift between 3-1/2 and 6 hours, the employee gets 1 rest period;
- for a shift between 6 and 10 hours, the employee gets 2 rest periods;
- for a shift between 10-14 hours, the employee gets 3 rest periods.
This is fairly straight forward, and the employee always has the option to skip a rest period that he or she has been authorized to take.
Timing of Rest Periods
The Court held that, as a general matter, the employer should set these rest periods near the middle of a 4-hour block of time, but the employer "may deviate from that preferred course where practical considerations render it infeasible." There is no particular rule, however, that the rest period must come before the meal period. They did say that with a normal eight-hour shift:
"[a]s a general matter, one rest break should fall on either side of the meal break." but " Shorter or longer shifts and other factors that render such scheduling impracticable may alter this general rule."
It is important to note that it is still incumbent on employers to show that they made employees’ meal breaks available.
In addition employers should have a good written policy that specifically instructs employees to notify someone in upper management or human resources, in writing, if they have requested but have been denied the opportunity to take a meal and/or rest break.
Employers must also sure that they train managers so that the managers understand what they need to do to ensure that all employees will take their breaks.