Employers Get a “Break”

The California Supreme Court Finally Gives Employers A “Break”

Brinker Restaurant Corporation v. Superior Court (Supreme Court Case No. S166350).

In one of the most important California employment law decisions in years, the California Supreme Court finally issued its opinion in the Brinker case. Before the Court was an issue that has been subject to much litigation over the years— whether an employer must ensure its employees take required meal period breaks, or whether they are only required to provide such breaks.

The California Supreme Court held that an employer cannot pressure an employee either to work during the meal period or to not take it. The Court reaffirmed the general rule that employees who are required to work during a meal period in violation of the meal period laws are entitled to a “penalty” of an additional wage of one hour at the employee’s regular rate of pay.

The California Supreme Court further decided that “the employer need not ensure that no work is done” during the provided meal period. Thus, an employer must provide a meal break, but it is the employee who ultimately decides whether to take it. If the employee chooses not to take it, there is no violation of the law.

Additionally, the Court held that the first meal period must be provided no later than the end of the employee’s fifth hour of work (or no later than the start of an employee’s sixth hour of work), and a second meal period no later than the end of an employee’s 10th hour of work.

This is a major victory for employers throughout California.  However, employers should not let down their guard.  They must continue to be vigilant by making sure that employees are not only provided meal period breaks, but they also are encouraged to take them.  An employee missing a legally required meal period should continue to be the exception, not the rule.

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