Today, the California Supreme Court issued its long awaited decision in Brinker v. Superior Court (Hohnbaum). California Employment lawyers representing both plaintiffs and defendants were eagerly waiting this decision because it would determine an important issue facing employers: Do employers have to just “provide” meal breaks or actually “ensure” that the meal breaks are taken. The Court sided with the employers and held that the employer “need not ensure that no work is done during an employee’s meal period.” The employer satisfies their obligation to provide a meal break “if it relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities and permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so.”
Before this decision, an employer could face penalties even if an employee voluntarily chose to miss a meal period. And employers were facing class-action claims based on missed meal-periods. Now, if an employer has a well-defined meal break policy that complies with Brinker, the employer will significantly reduce its exposure.
The Court also discussed the timing of meal breaks and clarified when they should be offered. The court held that “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.” This means that the meal period should begin no later than the start of the sixth and the eleventh hour of work.
California employers should be happy with this decision, but still careful in its treatment of employees. Employers have many laws and regulations that must be followed. Remember to call early so that we can help you through any challenging situation. Let’s be proactive together.
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