The California Supreme Court ruled today that employers are under no obligation to police that workers take their legally mandated lunch and rest breaks. This is a major victory for all California employers.
The ruling comes after employees argued that meal and rest break abuses are routine and widespread when companies are not required to issue direct orders to take breaks. Some of the major issues argued included: 1) does an employer need to regulate that employees are taking a 30-minute duty free meal period; and 2) the timing of when a meal break must be taken. Is early lunching, i.e., taking a lunch break at the very beginning of shift longer than five hours permissible?
The Supreme Court sided with employers when it ruled that requiring companies to specially schedule and order breaks is unmanageable and that those decisions should be left to the employees. Specifically, the court ruled that employers merely have an obligation to provide the opportunity to take 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.
The court went on to hold that employers “are not required 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 Orders and Labor Code section 226.7. Next, the court addressed the timing of meal breaks. Their ruling upholds current California law, which states that absent a waiver, Labor Code section 512 requires a first meal period no later than the end of an employee’s 5th hour of work, and a second meal period no later than the end of the employee’s 10th hour of work. This means that an employer can provide a meal break at any point in scheduled shifts that exceed five hours.
The entire case can be accessed here. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.