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New Workplace Break Regulations Take Effect

May 2, 2012

California Supreme Court mandates employee meal and rest breaks

On April 12, 2012, the California Supreme Court handed down a decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (Hohnbaum), No. S166350 that may affect California business law. Brinker Restaurant Corporation, a subsidiary of Brinker International, Inc. and its related entities, own and operate a number of restaurant chains, including Chili's Grill and Bar, Maggiano's Little Italy, and Romano's Macaroni Grill.

State law requires California employers to provide employees with meal breaks and rest breaks during the workday pursuant to California Labor Code 226.7 and 512, and Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) Wage Order No. 5-2001. The case originated when a class of restaurant workers filed suit, claiming that their employer, Brinker Restaurant Corp., 1) failed to provide meal breaks or premium wages in lieu of meal breaks, 2) failed to provide rest breaks or premium wages in lieu of rest breaks, 3) required employees to perform work duties off the clock during meal and rest breaks. Additionally, the plaintiffs contended that the employers deliberately altered the employees' time sheets in order to hide and misrepresent work time and break time. Finally, the plaintiffs objected to Brinker's alleged practice of requiring employees to take an early lunch soon after their shift began and then to work 6 to 8+ hours without a meal break thereafter.

What must employers provide now?

The Court's decision represents a dramatic shift in California commercial law and employment rules. The following is a summary of the new provisions:

Meal Breaks

At designated meal breaks, the employer MUST relieve the employee of their duty for at least thirty (30) minutes. The employee may use the break time for any purpose he or she desires. The employer is NOT responsible for ensuring that the employee uses the time for a meal, or that the employee does not engage in any work. The meal break must occur after no more than five hours of work. A second meal break must occur after no more than ten hours of work.

Rest Breaks

Employees are entitled to a rest break of ten minutes for every shift of 3.5 to 6 hours in length. Twenty minutes is to be allotted for any shift of 6 to 10 hours in length. For shifts of 10 hours or more, thirty minutes must be allotted for rest breaks. Rest breaks are distinct from meal breaks.

How do I make sure my business complies with these regulations?

In our area, a Sacramento business law attorney can examine your workplace policies and even redraft the policies in accordance with the new law. Your attorney can also ensure that your policies are conspicuously available to your employees. It may be prudent to have your Sacramento business lawyer prepare documents for your employees to sign that acknowledge their understanding of your new business practices.

It is important to note that the law applies to out-of-state businesses that employ workers in the State of California. Out-of-state employers should consider the expertise of local legal professionals to make sure that their California employees enjoy the benefits of this new law and that their business remains in compliance.

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