In a case that will undoubtedly affect thousands of workers statewide, the California Supreme Court issued its ruling today in Brinker v. Superior Court, a wage and hour class action filed by employees of Brinker International, Inc., the parent company of Chili’s restaurant. This is the first in a series of articles by Call & Jensen discussing the Brinker decision and its impact on employers.
MEAL PERIODS – No Duty To “Ensure” Employees Take Meal Periods
The lawsuit largely centered on the language of Labor Code section 512 that states: “An employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with a meal period of not less than 30 minutes.”
Before today, the unresolved issue before the California Supreme Court was the meaning of the word “providing.” Does an employer have to ensure that an employee has to take a meal period? Or does the employer meet its obligation if the employer makes the meal period available to the employee?
The California Supreme Court concluded that “an employer must relieve the employee of all duty for the designated period, but need not ensure that the employee does no work.” The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for consideration of whether class certification is appropriate.
REST BREAKS – Common Questions Predominate If Employer Has A Uniform Policy That Fails To Authorize All Permitted Rest Breaks
The Supreme Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in certifying a rest period subclass because Plaintiffs had presented substantial evidence of “a uniform rest break policy authorizing breaks only for each full four hours worked.”
Brinker’s uniform policy did not authorize and permit a second rest break for employees working shifts longer than six, but shorter than eight hours. The Supreme Court rejected the reasoning of the Court of Appeal that because rest breaks may be waived proof of violations must be based on individualized proof. The Supreme Court held that: “No issue of waiver ever arises for a rest break that was required by law but never authorized; if a break is not authorized, an employee has no opportunity to decline to take it.”
Per the Supreme Court, “employees are entitled to 10 minutes’ rest for shifts from three and one-half to six hours in length, 20 minutes for shifts of more than six hours up to 10 hours, 30 minutes for shifts of more than 10 hours up to 14 hours, and so on.”
TIMING – No Rolling 5-Hour Rule
Another critical issue before the Supreme Court was the timing of meal periods, specifically whether the wage orders require that a meal period be provided after five consecutive hours of work. In other words, does the statute prohibit the practice of “early lunches” – that is, requiring an employee to take his or her lunch break early in the shift and/or start the clock running on a second 5 hour period? With regard to these issues, the California Supreme Court ruled as follows: