California employers have been waiting since October 2008 for the California Supreme Court to issue it decisions in Brinker Restaurant v. Superior Court (review granted Oct. 22, 2008 and Brinkley v. Public Storage (review granted Jan. 14, 2009) on the issue of whether California law requires employers to ensure that non-exempt employees take meal periods or to merely make meal periods available to these employees. While these cases are pending, the California appellate courts issued rulings going both ways on this issue. Recently, the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District Court, issued positive decision for employers and held that employers are not required to force employees to take meal periods: “It is an employer’s obligation to ensure that its employees are free from its control for thirty minutes, not to ensure that employees do anything particular during that time.” Lamps Plus Overtime Cases (CA2/8 B220954 5/10/11). http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B220954.PDF
In the Lamps Plus Overtime Cases, the Appellate Court upheld the lower court’s decision to deny class certification with respect to claims of failure to provide meal and rest breaks, among other claims, against Lamps Plus, Inc., et al. (“Lamps Plus”). The Court also provided guidance in opposing class certification. The Court found no evidence of a class-wide policy or practice of preventing employees from taking meal periods. On the contrary, Lamps Plus employees were required to sign a form stating that they acknowledge that the company policy upholds the rest and meal break laws, that they will comply with the company policy, and that they will report any missed break to human resources. Lamps Plus supervisors were authorized to take disciplinary action to enforce the policy. The Court held that under these facts, it “does not make sense” to require an employer to pay a penalty to every employee who chooses to skip a rest and/or meal break.
While this ruling in Lamps Plus is favorable to employers and provides helpful guidance, it is of limited precedential value while the Brinker and Brinkley cases are pending.