Long-standing questions over California employers' responsibilities to provide meal and rest breaks, including frequency and timing, are resolved.
On April 12, the California Supreme Court issued its long-awaited opinion in Brinker Restaurant Corp., et al. v.
Superior Court (Brinker). Clarifying a number of issues that have been the subject of much litigation in California for many years, the court ruled that employers satisfy their California Labor Code section 512 obligation to "provide" meal periods to nonexempt employees by (1) relieving employees of all duty; (2) relinquishing control over their activities and permitting them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break; and (3) not impeding or discouraging them from doing so. Importantly, the court agreed that employers are not obliged to "police" meal breaks to ensure that no work is performed. Even if an employee chooses to work during a properly provided meal period, an employer will not be liable for any premium pay, and will only be liable to pay for the time worked during a meal period so long as the employer knew or reasonably should have known that the employee was working during the meal period. The court also clarified the law with respect to the number and timing of rest periods that must be authorized and permitted for employees.