Court of Appeal Rules Employers Must Only Provide Meal and Rest Breaks

Update: The Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Case Ruling Employers Must Only Provide Meal and Rest Breaks

On October 22, 2008, the California Supreme Court granted review of Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (2008) 165 Cal.App.4th 25.  The Court of Appeal found, among other things, that employers need only provide, not ensure, that meal and rest periods are taken.  Because the Supreme Court has granted review, the findings by the Court of Appeal are no longer good law and should not be followed.

Original Article Posted Below:

(July 23, 2008) In a decision that will have an impact on the laws governing meal and rest breaks, the 4th District Court of Appeal yesterday ruled that California law requires that employers need only provide meal periods, and, as a result, as with the rest period claims, the plaintiffs’ meal period claims are not amenable to class treatment.

The issue before the court in the case of Brinker Restaurant Corporation et al., v. The Superior Court of San Diego County, is did the trial court err in certifying this matter as a class action without first determining the elements of plaintiffs and real parties in interest against the defendants?

The court ruled that the class certification order is erroneous and must be vacated because the lower court failed to properly consider the elements of the plaintiffs’ claims in determining if they were susceptible to class treatment.

The court concluded that:

  1. Employers cannot impede, discourage or dissuade employees from taking rest periods; they need only provide, not ensure, rest periods are taken;
  2. Employers need only to authorize and permit rest periods every four hours or major fraction thereof and they need not, where impracticable, be in the middle of each work period;
  3. Employers are not required to provide a meal period for every five consecutive hours worked;
  4. While employers cannot impede, discourage or dissuade employees from taking meal periods, they need only provide them, not ensure they are taken; and
  5. While employers cannot coerce, require or compel employees to work off the clock, they can only be held liable for employees working off the clock if the employer knew or should have known the employees were doing so.

Furthermore, the court concluded that because the meal and rest breaks need only be “made available” and not “ensured,” individual issues predominate and based on the evidence presented to the trial court, they are not amenable to class treatment.

Finally, the court concluded the off-the-clock claims are also not amenable to class treatment as individual issues predominate on the issue of whether Brinker forced employees to work off the clock, whether Brinker changed time records, and whether Brinker knew or should have know employees were working off the clock.

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