4th District Court of Appeals and Meal Breaks

In a precedent setting decision, the 4th District Court of Appeals determined today that California employers are no longer responsible for for ensuring that their employees take meal breaks but rather, just that the meal breaks are available for the employees to use without any interference from the employer.

From the California Chamber of Commerce:

(July 23, 2008) In a decision that will have an impact on the laws governing meal and rest breaks, the 4th District Court of Appeal yesterday ruled that California law requires that employers need only provide meal periods, and, as a result, as with the rest period claims, the plaintiffs’ meal period claims are not amenable to class treatment.

The issue before the court in the case of Brinker Restaurant Corporation et al., v. The Superior Court of San Diego County, is did the trial court err in certifying this matter as a class action without first determining the elements of plaintiffs and real parties in interest against the defendants?

The court ruled that the class certification order is erroneous and must be vacated because the lower court failed to properly consider the elements of the plaintiffs’ claims in determining if they were susceptible to class treatment.

The court concluded that:

1.Employers cannot impede, discourage or dissuade employees from taking rest periods; they need only provide, not ensure, rest periods are taken;

2. Employers need only to authorize and permit rest periods every four hours or major fraction thereof and they need not, where impracticable, be in the middle of each work period;

3. Employers are not required to provide a meal period for every five consecutive hours worked;

4. While employers cannot impede, discourage or dissuade employees from taking meal periods, they need only provide them, not ensure they are taken; and

5. While employers cannot coerce, require or compel employees to work off the clock, they can only be held liable for employees working off the clock if the employer knew or should have known the employees were doing so.

Furthermore, the court concluded that because the meal and rest breaks need only be “made available” and not “ensured,” individual issues predominate and based on the evidence presented to the trial court, they are not amenable to class treatment.

It seems that the Governator is quite pleased by this turn of events:

“We are pleased that the California Court of Appeal issued today a decision squarely addressing many of the central issues in dispute concerning meal and rest periods. The confusing and conflicting interpretations of the meal and rest period requirements have harmed both employees and employers. Today’s decision promotes the public interest by providing employers, employees, the courts and the labor commissioner the clarity and precedent needed to apply meal and rest period requirements consistently.”

For once I’m in agreement with Ahnold. Watch out for those low flying pigs.

Thanks for the heads up Derek!

Update: The Labor Commissioner, Chief Counsel and Deputy Counsel for the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) issued a memo on 7/25/08 to DLSE staff clarifying the Brinker decision.