The long awaited decision by the California Supreme Court in the Brinker Restaurant case was announced on April 12, 2012 and largely provided good news to employers. The Supreme Court decided that employers do not have to ensure their employees take meal and rest periods; they need only provide and make them available to employees. The Court also confirmed that employers do not have to provide a 30-minute unpaid meal period whenever a 5-hour period is worked. No such timing requirement exists. Rather, an employer satisfies its obligations by providing one meal period for shifts over 5 hours and two meal periods for shifts over 10 hours. Additionally, the Court clarified when and how often rest periods must be taken.
Summary of the Underlying Facts and Claims
A class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of employees of Brinker Restaurant Corp., the operator of many restaurants throughout California including Macaroni Grill and Chili’s Grill & Bar. The lawsuit, potentially involving upwards of 60,000 hourly employees, claimed various sub-classes of employees including (1) employees who worked more than 3½ hours a day without receiving a paid rest period, (2) employees who worked in excess of 5 consecutive hours without receiving an unpaid 30-minute meal period, and (3) employees who worked “off the clock” during their meal periods or had time shaved off their working hours to comply with meal period obligations. These claims were made despite the fact Brinker had comprehensive written policies making clear an employee’s right to take such breaks and discipline for those who failed to follow these policies. Additionally, employees were required to sign forms acknowledging that they were informed of these rights.
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