Court Finds California Employer Violated Meal-Break Laws

The law requires that employers provide non-exempt California employees the ability to receive meal breaks and rest periods. In some instances, employers must provide exempt employees with the right to take meal breaks. The law does not extend to certain workers such as farm and domestic workers, or personal attendants. Under the state’s wage and hour law, non-exempt employees must receive a thirty-minute meal break if they work more than five hours in a day. The employer must allow for the break within the first five hours of the workday. Those who work more than ten hours are entitled to a second 30-minute break. Similarly, employers must provide exempt employees with a ten-minute rest break for those working more than three and a half or more hours. Employers who violate these laws may be subject to a California employment lawsuit.

For instance, the Supreme Court of California recently decided two questions of law related to a class-action lawsuit against an employer for wage-and-hour violations. In this case, the defendant is a healthcare service and staffing company. The company assigned the plaintiff to work eight-hour days at various shifts. The defendant maintained a policy that the meal period was for an “uninterrupted” 30 minutes, and workers were relieved from job duties during and could leave the premises during this period. Further, the policy specified that supervisors should not discourage workers from using this meal period.

Although the policy seems to comply with the state’s wage and hour laws, an issue arose because the employees used an electronic timekeeping system that rounded their punched time to the nearest 10-minute allotment. For instance, if an employee clocked out for their break at 12:02 p.m. and returned at 12:25, p.m., the record would show a 30-minute break instead of a 23-minute break. This was most relevant when a nurse would take lunch at the end of their fifth hour of work. The defendants won their motions at trial on the basis that California’s wage-and-hour laws do not prohibit rounding.

On appeal, the Supreme Court reviewed two significant issues involving rounding timekeeping and how it applies in the context of summary judgment. On the first issue, the court ruled that rounding timekeeping does not meet the state’s Labor Code which is to be “liberally construed in favor of the employee.” They found that even minor rounding errors can amount to a significant infringement of a worker’s right to their meal period. Secondly, the court found that “time records showing noncompliant” lunch periods raise a rebuttable presumption of an employment violation. The court clarified that shortened, delayed, or missed periods do not automatically impute liability on an employer, but instead, they can rebut the presumption by presenting relevant evidence. In sum, the court reinforced California labor laws in favor of employees.

Has Your Employer Engaged in Wage and Labor Violations?

If you believe your employer is violating California wage-and-hour laws, contact The Nourmand Law Firm, APC, to discuss your rights and remedies. For over 20 years, the attorneys at our law firm have solely represented employees in claims against their employers. We provide clients with the dignity, respect, and compassion that they deserve throughout these complicated claims. Our experienced attorneys have successfully represented California employees in their claims regarding wage-and-hour violations, discrimination, and other employment infractions. Contact our office at 800-700-WAGE to discuss your case today.

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