The California Supreme Court recently reached a long-awaited decision clarifying an employer’s obligation with regard to meal periods and rest breaks. The case, Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior Court, filed in 2004, brought into question whether an employer merely needs to make available a meal period for employees, or whether they need to ensure that no work is done by the employee during that period.
According to Kara L. Arguello, member of Berliner Cohen’s Employment Law Group, “The Court ruled that the employer’s obligation is to relieve its employee of all duties, with the employee thereafter at liberty to use the meal period for whatever purpose he or she desires. The employer need not ensure that no work is done.” Additionally, “The Court held that the first meal period must be provided no later than the end of the fifth hour worked, and the second meal period no later than the end of the tenth hour worked, but that there are no other timing requirements placed on meal periods.”
With regard to rest breaks, the Court said that employers must make a good faith effort to permit rest breaks in the middle of each work period, but may deviate from that if practical considerations call for breaks to be taken at other times. As a general rule, during an 8-hour workday, there should be one 10-minute rest break in the work period prior to the meal break, and one 10-minute rest break in the work period following the meal break. See legal opinion from Kara L. Arguello for more information.
You may want to check your Employee Handbook to ensure that any content regarding meal periods and rest breaks reflects the Court’s decision.
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