Published On: Thu, Apr 12th, 2012

California Managers Do Not Have to Police Employee Work Breaks

San Francisco – The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday, that employers in the state cannot be held responsible if employees decide to work instead of ‘taking a break’, however, employers must make it possible for workers to take scheduled breaks.

Thousands of California workers have sued employers in the past for evading state labor law requirements by making it impossible for workers to take scheduled breaks. Employers however, say they should not be forced to police their workers as long as breaks are made available.

The Court ruled Wednesday that employers must relieve employees of all duty during meal periods, but need not ensure they perform no work.

“In resolving uncertainty over the scope of an employer’s obligations to afford hourly employees meal and rest periods, the California Supreme Court concluded today that an employer’s obligation is to relieve its employees of all duty during meal periods, leaving the employees thereafter at liberty to use the period for whatever purpose they desire, but that an employer need not ensure no work is done.”

On questions concerning when meal periods must be provided, the court concluded that a first meal break generally must fall no later than five hours into an employee’s shift, but an employer need not schedule meal breaks at five hour intervals throughout the shift.

The ruling arose in Brinker Restaurant Corporation v. Superior Court, one of a number of break class actions pending in the state.

In a unanimous opinion authored by Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar, the court explained that neither state statutes nor the orders of the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) compel an employer to ensure employees cease all work during meal periods. However, employers must provide its employees an uninterrupted 30-minute duty-free period during which the employee is at liberty to come and go as he or she pleases.

With regards to ‘rest’ periods, the court explained that under the IWC’s orders, employees are entitled to 10 minutes of rest for shifts from three and one-half to six hours in length and to another 10 minutes rest for shifts from six hours to 10 hours in length. Rest periods need not be timed to fall specifically before or after any meal period.


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