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Illegal Rounding of Employee Meal Breaks

California Lawyers Skilled in Wage and Hour Claims

California has unique and detailed obligations regarding the timing and duration of meal breaks, and your employer is supposed to follow these rules if you are a non-exempt employee. Unfortunately, whether it does not realize what its obligations are, or it is trying to maximize its profits, your employer may try to get you to work off the clock on your lunch hour or at other points during the day. It may try to squeeze a little bit more time into your schedule without paying you for it by cutting your meal break short. This is illegal. If you are concerned about illegal rounding of employee meal breaks, you should discuss your situation with the California wage and hour lawyers at The Nourmand Law Firm. We have dedicated ourselves to fighting for workers’ rights for more than 20 years.

Illegal Rounding of Employee Meal Breaks

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) allows employers to round time rather than specifying the minutes at which a break was taken. However, in the 2021 case of Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC, the California Supreme Court held that employers cannot round time when employees take their lunch breaks. State law, rather than federal law, governs when it provides greater benefits to employees.

Under wage and hour law, non-exempt employees need to get a 30-minute lunch or meal break if they work beyond five hours in one day. The meal break needs to be given in the first five-hour shift. As a non-exempt worker who works more than 10 hours in a day, you will be entitled to a second 30-minute meal break.

Donohue also held that, at the summary judgment stage, presenting time records demonstrating that your meal breaks were non-compliant gives rise to a rebuttable presumption of liability. In other words, courts will presume that your employer should be held accountable for failing to provide meal breaks if you have time records that demonstrate that you did not actually take the appropriate mandated breaks.

The Court reasoned that technology has changed the landscape, such that the practical advantage of rounding policies may drop even further. Employers may be able to track your time more precisely, and therefore your employer must give you the exact time period that you are allowed. The Court reiterated the holding of an earlier case that employers can only be held accountable for failing to provide meal periods when they do not give employees the chance to take a compliant meal period.

In other words, your employer will not be accountable if it was your own decision to take a very brief or non-compliant meal period, or not to take a meal period at all. However, your employer is not allowed to engage in the practice of adjusting hours that you actually worked to the closest preset time increment.

One Hour at Your Regular Rate

If your meal period is denied, reduced, or not timely, your employer must pay one hour at your regular rate. A tiny rounding error can constitute a notable infringement on your right to a 30-minute meal period. In other words, your employer cannot infringe on the meal period that it owes you by counting minutes that you have lost from your meal period as negligible rounding errors.

Consult an Employment Attorney in California

Even when your employer’s records are imperfect, there is no automatic liability. Employers still have the power to rebut the presumption that they did not give you a compliant meal. Often, employers have significantly more clout than their workers and hire experienced employment attorneys to avoid their legal obligations. It is important to hire equally experienced lawyers. If your employer engaged in illegal rounding of employee meal breaks, you should consult the experienced wage and hour attorneys at The Nourmand Law Firm. The firm represents clients in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside Counties, as well as Oakland and Sacramento, among other areas of California. Complete our online form or call us at 310-553-3600 or 800-700-WAGE (9243).

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