It’s Only A Matter Of Time: Be Aware Of Meal And Rest Break Developments Before You Get Clocked By Penalties

For years, employers and employees have been anxiously waiting while the following unsettled questions about meal and rest breaks simmered: (1) whether employers may simply make meal breaks available to employee or are further required to ensure that employees take them; (2) whether a meal period may be taken at the beginning of a shift and/or may take place before any rest breaks are taken; and (3) what an employer’s wage obligations are when an employee decides to work through the meal period made available to him/her by the employer.

These questions have been percolating since 2002, when cooks, stewards, buspersons, wait staff and other hourly restaurant employees of Brinker Restaurant Corporation (which owns popular restaurants including Chili’s and Maggiano’s) claimed they were required to work through their meal break, work “off the clock,” and/or to take their meal period at the less-busy beginning of their shifts rather than in the busier middle part of their shifts. For a decade, these claims have been considered first by the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”) and then by the courts. Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court finally gave everyone a break by issuing its decision in Brinker Restaurant Corporation v. Superior Court.

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