Brinker: California Supreme Court Clarifies Standards for Meal Period Rules - Steps Employers Should Take Now

by Allen Matkins
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In California, employers have been challenged for years in dealing with how to comply with cumbersome and vague meal and rest period rules. Millions of dollars have been spent to battle and/or settle countless individual lawsuits and class actions alleging meal and rest period violations. Last week the California Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior Court of San Diego answering these questions including: See more +
In California, employers have been challenged for years in dealing with how to comply with cumbersome and vague meal and rest period rules. Millions of dollars have been spent to battle and/or settle countless individual lawsuits and class actions alleging meal and rest period violations. Last week the California Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior Court of San Diego answering these questions including:

- What does it mean to "provide" a meal period?

- Do meal periods have to be provided in rolling five-hour increments?

- Are early (or late) lunches allowed?

- Must employers ensure that their employees actually take these mandated breaks?

Steps Employers Should Take Now

The California Labor Code requires that an employer must pay a nonexempt employee one hour of pay for failure to provide a meal or rest break in accordance with an applicable order of the Industrial Welfare Commission. With the California Supreme Court having now clarified when that one hour of pay will be owed, employers should implement the following best practices to comply with meal and rest period obligations:

ADVISE:

Make sure employees are well informed that they are authorized and permitted to take meal and rest periods every day by (1) maintaining a well-written meal and rest period policy in the Employee Handbook, and (2) prominently displaying that policy along with all other employment-related posters on the company bulletin board and/or by the time clock.

Consider implementing "pop ups" or other electronic advisements into the timekeeping system and/or the log-in and log-off systems at individual computers providing weekly reminders about breaks.

ACKNOWLEDGE:

Require all new employees to sign a document at the time of hire that advises the employee of his/her right to take meal and rest periods.

Consider including an acknowledgment on time records where the employee confirms that he/she took all meal and rest periods during such payroll period.

Require employees to complete a form any time an employee states that a meal period is missed (e.g., require a written report to HR to document whether the break was missed voluntarily, or whether the employee was dissuaded or prevented from taking the break.)

Obtain applicable written meal period waivers.

IMPLEMENT:

Periodically publish a "Reminder" to current employees regarding the company's meal and rest period policy.

Consider formally scheduling meal and rest periods into work schedules.

Analyze whether to assign one employee as a "breaker" to fill in while others take meal and rest breaks.

Consider programming electronic time system so employees cannot clock back in after a meal period earlier than 30 minutes.

Regularly train staff and management on meal and rest break rules using standardized training materials.

REVIEW:

Periodically review timecard records to determine whether employees are accurately reporting meal periods.

DISCIPLINE AND COUNSEL:

Discipline and counsel any supervisor who dissuades or instructs employees to miss meal or rest periods.

Discipline employees who fail to record meal periods they took and/or who otherwise violate the company's meal and rest period policies.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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