California has been home to many a class action lawsuit surrounding meal and rest breaks, both before and after the state Supreme Court’s crucial 2012 decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court. Consequently, California employers have a sharp interest in making their break policies and practices as compliant as possible.
The Basic Rest Break Rule
What does California law have to say about when employees need to take rest breaks? First, CA Labor Code (Section 226.7) states that employers cannot require employees to work during breaks mandated by an order of the Industrial Welfare Commission. Second, the IWC has required (Section 12(A) of the Wage Orders) that:
“Every employer shall authorize and permit all employees to take rest periods, which insofar as practicable shall be in the middle of each work period. The authorized rest period time shall be based on the total hours worked daily at the rate of ten (10) minutes net rest time per four (4) hours or major fraction thereof.”
Timing of Rest Breaks
The rule on rest breaks is often generalized as “10 minutes paid rest for every four hours (or major fraction thereof) worked.” Does it follow that each rest break must occur during the middle of each four-hour work period? Or can an employer allow—or require—employees to combine breaks, or to schedule them at some time other than midway through the work period?
In a recent case (Rodriguez v. E.M.E., Inc.), the CA Court of Appeals took a stab at answering these questions, which have long puzzled employers doing their best to avoid a potential wage and hour class action. The facts of the case are as follows: For reasons that related to the nature of the work performed, E.M.E. provided one 20-minute rest break and one meal break per eight-hour shift. Rodriguez brought a class action claiming that this practice violated Section 12(A) of the applicable Wage Order.
Turning to the Labor Code, Court of Appeal held that the phrase “insofar as practicable” as referenced above means that employers may depart from the Wage Order schedule (i.e., a rest break in the middle of each four-hour period or major fraction thereof) only when it (1) will “not unduly affect employee welfare” and (2) “is tailored to alleviate a material burden” on the employer that would result from using the Wage Order schedule.
To discuss how this ruling could affect your California business and employment practices, contact experienced business attorney Drew E. Pomerance today.