In Araquistain v. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (August 27, 2014) --- Cal. App.4th ---), the California First District Court of Appeal considered whether a provision in a valid collective bargaining agreement requiring employees who work eight-hour shifts “to eat their meals during work hours [without] additional time therefore at Company expense” met the statutory requirements regarding meal periods found at California Labor Code section 512. The court found that it did.
Labor Code section 512 requires employees who work for more than five hours per day to receive a 30-minute unpaid meal period. In Brinker Restaurant Corporation v. Superior Court (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1004, the California Supreme Court held that to meet this requirement, an employer must “relieve its employee[s] of all duty, with the employee thereafter at liberty to use the meal period for whatever purpose he or she desires …” (See link to KMTG's Legal Alert on Brinker). In Araquistain, the employees alleged they were required to eat their meals while on duty. Employees claimed that requirement violated Labor Code section 512, which entitled them to an off-duty meal period.
While section 512 generally requires employers to provide off-duty meal periods, subdivision (e) of that code section states this requirement is inapplicable when (1) an employee is covered by a valid collective bargaining agreement and (2) the valid collective bargaining agreement expressly provides for (i) wages, hours of work, and working conditions of employees, (ii) meal periods for those employees, (iii) final and binding arbitration for disputes over meal periods, (iv) premium wage rates for all overtime hours worked, and (v) a regular hourly rate of not less than 30% more than the state minimum wage. In addition, Labor Code section 512, subdivision (f)(4) makes the exception for collective bargaining agreements in subdivision (e) expressly applicable to employees employed by an electrical corporation, a gas corporation, or a local publicly owned electric utility.
The collective bargaining agreement covering the employees in Araquistain stated : “[S]hift employees and other employees whose workday consists of eight consecutive hours shall be permitted to eat their meals during work hours and shall not be allowed additional time therefore at Company expense.” Based on this provision of the collective bargaining agreement, PG&E moved for, and was granted, summary judgment by the trial court, which found that the collective bargaining agreement in question met the requirements of section 512(e) and PG&E was an employer covered by section 512(f)(4).
On appeal, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco agreed with the trial court and affirmed its ruling. The question before the court was whether the provision in the collective bargaining agreement in question actually provided for “meal periods.” Employees argued that, after Brinker, the term “meal period” must be interpreted as a specified time period of not less than 30 minutes during which an employee is relieved of all duty. The question before the court, therefore, was whether the term “meal period,” when used in conjunction with the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement must have this same meaning. The court held it did not. The court noted that parties to a collective bargaining agreement are “free to bargain over the terms of their meal period, including whether the meal period will be of a specified length and whether employees will be relieved of all duty during that time.” Accordingly, the collective bargaining agreement in question met the requirements of Labor Code section 512(e) because it addressed meal periods.
What This Means To You
While Labor Code section 512 provides certain exceptions to the general requirement of providing employees with off-duty meal periods, as this decision demonstrates, those exceptions are narrow and employers must take great caution in requiring employees to perform work-related duties during meal periods. Unless an exception applies, the consequences for violating the requirement to provide an off-duty meal period include damages and civil fines and penalties that can be significant.