For the first time, a California appellate court has held that employers do not need to force their employees to take meal breaks. While several federal cases have found that employers do not need to force employees to take meal breaks, the only California appellate court decision on the matter found that employers needed to ensure employees took the meal break. This sometimes proved difficult when an employee simply refused to take the meal break.
Reconsidering the matter following a transfer from the California Supreme Court, and after vacating their original decision, the Fourth Appellate District in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Super. Ct., held:
- While employers cannot impede, discourage or dissuade employees from taking rest periods, they need only provide, not ensure, rest periods are taken;
- Employers need only authorize and permit rest periods every four hours or major fraction thereof and they need not, where impracticable, be in the middle of each work period;
- Employers are not required to provide a meal period for every five consecutive hours worked;
- While employers cannot impede, discourage or dissuade employees from taking meal periods, they need only provide them and not ensure they are taken; and
- While employers cannot coerce, require or compel employees to work off the clock, they can only be held liable for employees working off the clock if they knew or should have known they were doing so.
The decision as it relates to rest breaks is no big surprise considering the language regarding mandatory rest breaks is considerably different than the language regarding meal breaks. The appellate courts interpretation provides a significant boon for employers that provide meal breaks even when the employees refuse to take them.
There are still plenty of ways an employee could claim s/he was dissuaded from taking a required break. Smart employers will ensure their handbooks and general policies clearly provide for and even encourage the use of all rest and meal breaks. Additionally, employers should be careful about scheduling employee work-times so tightly that the employees essentially cannot take a break.The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego 95 South Market Street, Suite 520 San Jose, CA 95113 Tel. 408-293-6341 Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman, former associate of The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego.
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