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Brinker Decision Clarifies Meal And Rest Break Rules

Apr 12, 2012

At 10:00 a.m. PDT today, the California Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated decision in Brinker v. Superior Court, No. S166350 (available here), ruling that while employers must provide meal breaks to California employees, employers are not obligated to ensure that no work is done during the breaks provided.  The Court’s ruling, which has significant ramifications for the transportation industry, also resolved questions about the timing of meal breaks, the availability of multiple meal breaks during longer work shifts, and the standards governing rest breaks.  The following is a brief summary of the Court’s pertinent holdings:

Meal Breaks.  California employers must provide employees working more than five hours per day with an uninterrupted 30 minute meal break.  The California Supreme Court stated that an employer satisfies this obligation if it (1) relieves its employees of all duty; (2) relinquishes control over their activities; (3) permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break; and (4) does not impede or discourage them from doing so. In rejecting the so-called “ensure” standard, the Court noted an employer is not obligated to police meal breaks or ensure no work is performed during the break.

Meal Break Timing.  The Court affirmed that employees must be provided the requisite meal break not later than the start of an employee’s sixth hour of work, but held that a second meal break is due only where an employee works a shift in excess of ten hours. 

Rest Breaks.  The Court ruled that employers must authorize and permit 10-minute rest breaks for shifts from three and one-half to six hours, 20-minutes for shifts between six hours up to ten hours, and 30-minutes for shifts lasting between 10 hours up to 14 hours. 

Implications For Clients.  The firm is continuing to evaluate the implications of this major ruling.  The California Supreme Court was careful to note in its decision that application of the standards announced today will likely vary from industry to industry. This will be true for transportation industry employers. As many of the Firm’s clients know, the firm has consistently argued that California’s meal and rest break laws are preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (“FAAAA”) due to their effect on motor carrier’s prices, routes, and services, and by the DOT’s Hours of Service regulations.  In October 2011 the Firm’s position was accepted by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in Dilts, et al. v. Penske Logistics, LLC, et al., Case No. 08-CV-318 JLS. 

While the decision in the Penske case may be appealed, we do not believe the California Supreme Court’s ruling affects our position on preemption.  Nevertheless, we recommend that all of our clients subject to California’s wage and hour laws evaluate their compliance with the standards announced by the California Supreme Court today.  If you have questions about the Brinker decision and its significance for your operations, please do not hesitate to contact one of the following Scopelitis attorneys:

  • Jim Hanson (317-637-1777)
  • Adam Smedstad (312-255-7200)
  • Bob Browning (317-637-1777)
  • Chris McNatt (626-795-4700)