By: Michael Kun
This morning, the California Supreme Court has just issued its long-awaited decision in the Brinker case regarding meal and period requirements. It is largely, but not entirely, a victory for employers. A copy of the decision is here.
A few highlights of the decision:
On rest periods, the Court confirmed the certification of a rest period class because Brinker’s written policy arguably did not comply with the law as to the second rest period in a day. In so doing, it clarified when employees are entitled to rest periods:
· Employees are entitled to 10 minutes’ rest for shifts from three and one-half to six hours in length, 20 minutes for shifts of more than six hours up to 10 hours, 30 minutes for shifts of more than 10 hours up to 14 hours, and so on. (page 20)
On meal periods, the Court confirmed that meal periods need not be “ensured,” and that employers have no obligation to “police” them:
· An employer’s duty with respect to meal breaks under both section 512, subdivision (a) and Wage Order No. 5 is an obligation to provide a meal period to its employees. The employer satisfies this obligation 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….. On the other hand, the employer is not obligated to police meal breaks and ensure no work thereafter is performed. Bona fide relief from duty and the relinquishing of control satisfies the employer’s obligations, and work by a relieved employee during a meal break does not thereby place the employer in violation of its obligations and create liability for premium pay under Wage Order No. 5, subdivision 11(B) and Labor Code section 226.7, subdivision (b). (page 36)
The Court also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument in favor of “rolling” meal periods (i.e., the argument that an employee who takes an early meal period is entitled to another meal period within the next five hours, even if he or she works less than 10 hours):
· We conclude that, absent waiver, section 512 requires a first meal period no later than the end of an employee’s fifth hour of work, and a second meal period no later than the end of an employee’s 10th hour of work. (page 37)
Unfortunately, confirming that meal period claims will continue to be litigated in California for years to come, the Court added the following caveat:
· What will suffice may vary from industry to industry, and we cannot in the context of this class certification proceeding delineate the full range of approaches that in each instance might be sufficient to satisfy the law. (page 36)
A more comprehensive analysis of the decision and its impact upon California employers – and the meal and rest period class actions that have besieged California employers – will be forthcoming.