On Thursday, the California Supreme Court issued its long awaited decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, No. D049331 (April 12, 2012). This unanimous decision brings some clarity to the stringent meal period and rest period requirements for non-exempt employees in California.
Employers are not obligated to police meal periods. Instead, employers are required to 1) relieve employee of all duties, 2) relinquish control over employee’s activities and 3) permit employee a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted thirty-minute break. The California Supreme Court concluded that an employer's obligation is to relieve its employee of all duties, but the employer does not need to ensure that no work is done. The employee is free to use the meal period for any purpose. If an employee decides to cut short a meal period, or not take one at all, an employer does not owe a penalty. However, an employee is entitled to be paid for the time worked during the meal period, but no premium pay is required. Employers may not pressure employees to skip a meal period and may not offer any incentives for employees to skip a meal period.
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