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CA Supreme Court Says Workers Can Work Through Meal Breaks

Employers throughout California are required by law to provide meal breaks to hourly employees for every shift over five hours. But, the California Supreme Court recently ruled that if an employee chooses to work through his or her meal break, the employer has met its duty by simply giving the worker the opportunity to take a meal break.

For an employer to have met his or her duty to provide meal breaks, an employee must be allowed to:

  • Take an uninterrupted, 30-minute break
  • Leave the premises if he or she chooses, and
  • Be free from any work requirements during that time period

An employee who works through his or her meal time must be paid for that time as normal or "straight pay," unless the additional time takes the employee over 40 hours a week, into overtime pay. As a penalty to employers who don't allow the required 30-minute break at all, employees who are not allowed to take 30-minute break are entitled to a full hour's worth of pay.

The Court determined that employers need not "police meal breaks and ensure that no work is thereafter performed," but must give employees the opportunity to take the meal and rest breaks and may not offer incentives or otherwise try to coerce and employee into not taking his or her break.

The ruling is a partial resolution of nine years of litigation against Brinker Restaurant Corporation, which owns Chili's Grill & Bar and Maggiano's Little Italy. Over the years, Brinker has also owned and operated other chain restaurants throughout California, including Romano‟s Macaroni Grill, On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina, Corner Bakery Café and 3 Cozymel's Mexican Grill.

Source: Fox News, "Court: Managers don't have to ensure lunch breaks," April 13, 2012

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