California’s Supreme Court issued an opinion today that will likely further increase employers’ risk of class action lawsuits arising out of meal periods. The court made two significant holdings:

  1. While employers are generally permitted to neutrally round an employee’s time punches at the start and end of an employee’s shift, employers are not permitted to round an employee’s time punches for meal periods.
  2. If an employee’s time punch records reflect that an employee took a short or late meal period, those time punch records are presumptive evidence at the class certification and summary judgment stage of a meal period violation, entitling the employee to one hour of premium pay for the violation.

The Court’s decision, Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC, Cal. Supreme Court Case No. S253677, can be viewed here.

Many employers use rounding as part of their regular time-keeping practices, and this opinion does not seem to affect that practice for purposes of beginning and ending the workday. It does, however, eliminate that ability for meal periods, largely defeating the use of rounding practices. Employers with California employees should examine their practices immediately, and, if they are using rounding for meal periods, they should stop doing so.

Although California employers are not required, under existing law, to ensure that employees affirmatively take the compliant meal periods provided to them, California employers should enforce their meal period requirements in an effort to minimize the impact of a rebuttable presumption.

California law has many traps for unwary employers. This most recent decision is a reminder for employers of both the need to remain vigilant in this area and to expect continued expensive class litigation.