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California meal break laws just got a whole lot easier for employers to swallow.
Up until now, an employer's meal break obligations were unclear. Are employers required to ensure that employees do no work during their meal breaks? Or can employees choose to work during that time?
In the just-issued Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court of San Diego, the court decided to go with the second option.
California meal break laws, specifically Labor Code section 512 and Work Order No. 5, only require employers to provide employees with a 30 minute uninterrupted meal break, according to the court.
An employer satisfies this obligation when "it relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities and permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so."
If an employee wants to work through his break, it is his right to do so.
However, employers still have an obligation to pay employees should this happen. Employers will be liable only for "straight pay" when they knew, or should have known, the employee worked through lunch. "Straight pay" is the employee's ordinary wage.
It's therefore important to communicate with your employees about whether or not they are working through meal breaks. While California's meal break laws allow them to skip lunch, you don't want to be accused of not paying them for their work. You'll also want to ensure that the extra 30 minutes does not activate your obligation to pay overtime.