The California Supreme Court’s decision in Brinker v. Superior Court unleashed a flood of single-plaintiff and class-action lawsuits involving alleged violations of California’s meal and rest period laws. Under California law, employees are entitled to take at least one 30-minute uninterrupted, off-duty meal break no later than the end of their 5th hour of work. If employees work over 10 hours, they must be provided a second 30-minute meal period. Similarly, employees must also receive 10-minute rest periods for each 4 hour-period worked or major fraction thereof.
In affirming summary judgment in favor of the employer in Serrano v. Aerotek, Inc., a recent California Court of Appeal decision emphasized the steps employers can take to fulfill their obligations under California law and avoid legal liability:
- Adopt compliant meal and rest period policies in your employment agreements or employee handbook;
- Instruct employees to immediately report any instance in which they are prevented from taking a timely break to your company;
- Collect signed acknowledgments from employees that state the employees have read and understand all policies in the handbook or agreement;
- Provide trainings that explicitly address the policies outlined in your handbook as part of the onboarding process; and
- Insert language in any third-party agreements that explicitly imposes a duty on the third-party to comply with applicable, state, and local laws.
While the Court confirmed that employers are not required to “police” or monitor whether employees are taking timely meal and rest periods per the policy, proactive employers might want to pay attention to employees’ time records to identify and check-in with any employees who are taking late meal or rest breaks, or missing these breaks altogether, including paying meal or rest period premiums when required.
The plaintiff’s bar has been aggressive in going after employers with insufficient meal and rest break policies and procedures. We recommend acting now to review your meal and rest period policies and procedures to ensure that they meet the frequency and timing requirements, but to also confirm that the policies are being implemented correctly.