Are You Getting All of Your Meal and Rest Breaks at Work? New Court Decision Says Employers May Not Interfere with Right to Meal and Rest Breaks

Alert number: 
4
April 16, 2012

Background

Employers are required to provide their employees with an uninterrupted 30-minute meal period for every five hours worked and a 10-minute rest break for shifts between 3.5 and 6 hours in length. But exactly how employers are supposed to provide these breaks has been at the heart of many legal disputes, and one case in particular—Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Super. Ct.—for many years now.

New California Supreme Court Decision

On April 12, 2012, the California Supreme Court issued a decision in Brinker, reaffirming unequivocally that California workers are entitled to an uninterrupted 30–minute meal period, free of all duty and able to use the time for whatever purpose workers choose, for every five hours worked. While employers do not have to ensure that no work is done during a meal period, they must relieve their employees of all work duty for a full 30 minutes and not interfere or impede with the break in any way. This means employers cannot pressure workers against taking breaks, create incentives to forego breaks, or encourage workers to skip breaks. So long as workers do not agree in writing to “waive,” or give up, a meal period, workers are entitled to such a meal period after no more than 5 hours of work and a second meal period after no more than 10 hours of work.

The Brinker decision also confirmed the rights of California workers to rest periods: workers scheduled for shifts longer than 3.5 hours are entitled to a 10 minute rest break; if scheduled for a shift longer than 6 hours, they are entitled to 20 minutes in rest breaks; and if scheduled for a shift longer than 10 hours, they are entitled to 30 minutes in rest breaks.

While the sequence of the meal and rest periods may depend on particular circumstances, the Brinker Court indicated a preference that employers provide one rest break before a meal period and one rest break after.

Example

Mr. X is a waiter at a restaurant. He works 8–hour shifts and is usually scheduled from 3 pm to 11 pm. Mr. X’s employer is required to provide him with one 30-minute meal period and two 10-minute rest breaks during his workday. His meal break must be provided to him before 8 p.m.; however, if he takes his meal period around 5 p.m., he is not entitled to a second meal period because his shift was not longer than 10 hours. If Mr. X’s employer asks him to eat in the kitchen when the restaurant gets busy so that he can wait tables if needed or if Mr. X’s employer gives him an extra shift in exchange for coming back from his break early, the employer has failed to provide a meal period under the law.

Guidance for Workers

California workers working a typical 8–hour shift are entitled to an uninterrupted 30–minute meal break as well as two 10–minute rest breaks entirely free of duty to do whatever they choose. If a violation does occur, workers are entitled to “premium pay” for working through their breaks: one hour of pay for each day a meal break was missed, and an additional one hour of pay for each day a rest break was missed.

Claims

If you have been denied adequate access to meal and rest breaks by your employer, you can contact your local office of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA).

FURTHER INFORMATION

You can find free information about worker’s rights on our website. If you have additional questions, please contact our Workers’ Right Clinic at 415-864-8208 or toll-free at 866-864-8208.

This alert is intended as an information source for clients and friends of Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center. The content should not be construed as legal advice, and readers should not act upon information in this publication without professional counsel. This material may be considered advertising under certain rules of professional conduct.