Employers Statewide Relieved by Today’s Meal-and-Rest Break Decision
State Supreme Court Ruling in Brinker Case Spares a Broad Range of Golden State Industries Including Construction, Restaurant, Trucking and Hospitality
Employers paying wages in the state of California may breathe easier tonight due to the landmark labor law decision on the case, Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, which was unanimously passed yesterday, April 12, 2012, by the California Supreme Court.
At the heart of the case lay the question of an employer’s duties when it came to providing meal breaks for their employees. The law clearly states that employers are required to provide workers who work over 6 hours with a full, unpaid, half-hour, responsibility-free meal period. What was unclear was whether the employer was required to police these meal periods; forcing employees to stop working entirely during their break, regardless of how practical that might be, or any possible negative impacts this might have on the employee. This kind of absolute blind enforcement raised issues for employers and employees in many industries where a forced total cessation of work related activities might threaten the success of a delicate procedure, as in the health care and construction industries, or where it might cause employees to lose tips or a sales commission.
In what many seem to consider a “common sense” decision, the Supreme Court chose to alleviate these concerns. Now, although employers must provide their employees with the opportunity to take a break, that time is to be considered as belonging entirely to the employee. The employee may, therefore, choose to cut their meal period short, or to skip it entirely. It is no longer the duty of the employing company to ensure that employees drop everything and take a rest, only to ensure that it is possible for them to do so.
The hope is that by allowing this flexibility in the timing and length of meal breaks, fewer class action law suits will be filed against employers in businesses where it is not always reasonable for employees to drop everything at a pre-set time in order to take a break. This also releases employers from the financial concern of spending management time policing employee breaks.
It should be noted and emphasized that employers cannot in any way compel employees into giving up their meal periods without paying them a penalty of an extra hour’s worth of wages at the coerced employee’s regular rate of pay. Giving up their meal period must be the sole decision of the employee if the employer is to be released from this lawful obligation. Furthermore, if an employee chooses to work through their break period, the employer is still responsible to pay them for all time spent working.
Other important clarifications set forth by the court, and a simple bulleted list of labor laws as they have been interpreted by this decision can be found (here)[link to http://californiaemploymentlaw.foxrothschild.com/tags/brinker-restaurant-corp-v-supe/].
The full 63 page court decision may be found (here)[link to http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S166350.PDF].
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