In a recent California Court of Appeals case, Brinker Restaurant Corporation v. Superior Court, the court discussed what it means to “provide” meal and rest periods. The decision made some significant conclusions:
- “While employers cannot impede, discourage or dissuade employees from taking meal or rest periods, they need only provide them, and not ensure they are taken;”
- “Employers need only authorize and permit rest periods every four hours or major fraction thereof and they need not, where impracticable, be in the middle of each work period;”
- “Employers are not required to provide any meal period for every five consecutive hours worked;” and
- “While employers cannot coerce, require or compel employees to work off the clock, they can only be held liable for employees working off the clock if they knew or should have known they were doing so.”
In other words, the court made it clear that although the employer must make meal and rest periods available, it does not have to force an employee to take such a break.
The decision also provided examples of how an employer would be non-compliant; for example, when an employer did not schedule meal periods, did not have a policy authorizing meal periods, or pressured employees to skip meals. The court further noted that if an employer knew that employees were working while eating, and did not take steps to address the situation, the employer would be depriving employees of such breaks and, thus, would have failed to provide meal periods.
This decision provides California employers with a new level of flexibility in scheduling and permitting employees to take their meal and rest periods. The decision also highlights the importance of employer wage-and-hour practices and policies, and reminds them to review employee handbooks and other policies to ensure compliance with the clarified meal and rest period laws.
Courtesy of Pettit Kohn Ingrassia and Lutz (San Diego, CA).