This week, the Ninth Circuit resolves a split among trial courts about the application of California labor laws on drilling platforms on the Outer Continental Shelf.

The Court holds that California labor laws requiring meal and rest breaks do not apply on the Outer Continental Shelf under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act because federal law already addresses those issues.

Panel: Judges Murguia, Christen, and Lynn (N.D. Tex.), with Judge Christen writing the opinion.

Key Highlight: “The fact that federal law does not provide meal- and rest-period protections as robust as California’s does not mean that there is a gap in federal law or that federal law does not address meal and rest periods. The result we reach here is consistent with [the Supreme Court’s decision in] Parker Drilling, which made clear that state law plays only a limited role on the OCS.”

Background: Iafeta Mauia worked twelve hour shifts as a scaffolding supervisor on oil platforms on the Outer Continental Shelf off the coast of California. His employer, Petrochem, provided one meal period after six hours, and two rest periods per twelve-hour shift. Mauia filed suit, alleging that those practices violated California labor law, which requires 30-minute meal breaks at least every five hours, and 10 minutes of rest for every four hours worked. Petrochem moved to dismiss because, under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, state law only applies on the OCS to the extent that federal law has left a gap. California labor law was thus inapplicable, Petrochem argued, because the federal Fair Labor Standards Act already addressed meal and rest periods. The district court disagreed, reasoning that federal law concerned only when breaks must be compensated as work time, not whether employers must provide them. Recognizing that other trial courts had reached a different result, the district court certified interlocutory appeal.

Result: The Ninth Circuit reversed. The Court first explained that OCSLA adopts state law on the Outer Continental Shelf to the extent it is “applicable and not inconsistent with . . . Federal law.” Under the Supreme Court’s decision in Parker Drilling Mgmt. Servs. v. Newton, 139 S. Ct. 1881 (2019), “the question is whether federal law has already addressed the relevant issue; if so, state law addressing the same issue would necessarily be inconsistent with existing federal law and cannot be adopted as surrogate federal law.” Next, the Court walked through the FLSA’s implementing regulations, concluding that “federal law encourages, but does not require, that employers provide rest breaks” and “requires employers to compensate employees for any rest breaks that are provided.” Because those rules “expressly contemplate meal and rest periods, address how and when these periods must be compensated as work time, and provide a remedy to employees whose employers fail to comply,” the Court held that “there is no gap in federal law for state law to fill,” and thus the California labor code provisions Mauia invoked did not apply. “The fact that federal law does not provide meal- and rest-period protections as robust as California’s does not mean that there is a gap in federal law.” And it did not matter that there was no “direct federal counterparts” to the California rules because the relevant inquiry is “whether federal law addresses the relevant issue, not whether federal law addresses it in the same way.”