Employment Law Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law and HR

Apr 20, 2012

CALIFORNIA: Employers need only provide, not mandate, breaks and meal periods

 
The California Supreme Court recently released a much-anticipated decision, ruling that employers need only make appropriate break and meal periods available to their employees, but they need not ensure that they are actually taken.

The California Supreme Court recently released a much-anticipated decision, ruling that employers need only make appropriate break and meal periods available to their employees, but they need not ensure that they are actually taken. According to the court, an employer satisfies its legal obligation to provide breaks and meal periods if it relieves employees of all duty, relinquishes control over employees’ activities during the break time, allows them the opportunity to take their full break or meal period and does not in any way impede or discourage them from doing so. The court also gave employers some flexibility in scheduling meal periods, ruling that a first meal period generally must fall no later than five hours into an employee’s shift, but the employer need not schedule meal breaks at five hour intervals throughout the shift. Employees are entitled to ten minutes of rest for shifts from three and one-half to six hours in length, and to another ten minutes rest for shifts from six hours to ten hours in length. Rest periods need not be timed to fall specifically before or after any meal period (Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. The Superior Court of San Diego County, Cal, April 2012).
 
Tips: While this opinion is great news for employers, it is still important to be wary of any workplace policies or practices that might serve to discourage employees from taking their breaks and meal periods. For more information, see our Legal Guide, “Breaks and Meal Periods—California” (2499).

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