After an eight-year legal battle, the California Supreme Court ruled that employers do not have to "ensure" that employees take their breaks. Specifically, the Court concluded that while "an employer must relieve the employee of all duty for the designated period," the employer "is not obligated to police meal breaks and ensure no work thereafter is performed." Similarly, employers are not required to guarantee that employees refrain from working during rest breaks as long as the employer provides the break. This is a victory not only for employers, but also for employees who want to have more autonomy.
Employers should still note that they cannot prevent an employee from taking breaks to which he or she is legally entitled if the employee so chooses. Labor Code section 226.7, subdivision (a)2 prohibits an employer from requiring an employee "to work during any meal or rest period mandated by an applicable order of the Industrial Welfare Commission."
The employer satisfies its obligation to "provide" non-exempt employees with a meal period if the employer "relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities and permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so. What will suffice may vary from industry to industry..." Similarly, employers must "authorize and permit" all employees to take rest periods as allowed under the law, but employees may choose to waive some or all of those rest periods.
Thus, employers should continue to enforce written policies which notify non-exempt employees of their legal rights to breaks and which give employees mechanisms for making complaints if they feel that their job duties are infringing upon those rights. Employers should further train supervisors not to prevent or discourage employees from taking breaks. Finally, employers should consider regularly obtaining employee signatures on time records to confirm that all meal and rest periods have been made available to the employee.