The California Supreme Court decision in Brinker Restaurant Corporation v. Superior Court, dealt with the key issue of whether an employer must ensure that each employee has a duty-free meal period or need only authorize and permit its employees to take a meal break. Brinker ruled that an employer “satisfies this obligation if it relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities and permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30 minute break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so.” 

While Brinker makes it clear that employers are not required to police and enforce the taking of meal periods or ensure that an employee does not perform any work during the meal break, merely having a policy offering meal periods will not be enough. The Court made clear that an employer cannot “impede or discourage” employees from taking meal breaks. Ultimately the employer will have the burden to establish that employees who took meal breaks were in fact relieved of all duty and employees who skipped the meal break, could have taken it, but voluntarily chose not to and were paid in full for all time worked, including any overtime that might result.

For guidance on what steps an employer might take to provide its workers with the flexibility permitted by Brinker and avoid penalties and/or overtime liability, please click here for our California Labor and Employment Alert: “Brinker and Beyond--A Simple Guide to Meal and Rest Period Obligations.”