Employment Law – Rules for meal breaks and rest breaks explained by California Supreme Court in Brinker case

Here is the long-awaited, mostly pro-employer, decision on meal breaks and rest breaks by the California Supreme Court in the Brinker case.  The decision confirmed employers need only provide the opportunity for employees to take meal breaks, and employers do not need to monitor their employees to ensure the breaks are actually taken.

Providing an opportunity to take a meal break means relieving the employee of all duties.  An employer cannot pressure their employees to not take breaks, and providing incentives to avoid breaks or encouraging employees not to take breaks (i.e. promoting someone who never took a break) will be problematic.  However, an employer does not have to police meal breaks and ensure no work is performed during meal breaks.

In general, 30 minute meal breaks are supposed to be given once every 5 hours.  The Brinker court also ruled that the meal break could be given early in the 5 hour window (this is a particular concern for restaurant workers like those in the Brinker case, where it is not uncommon to have meal periods taken early in a lunch or dinner shift before restaurants get busy: Brinker operates Chili’s and Macaroni Grill restaurants, among others).

The Brinker Court also clarified when a rest break must be provided: one rest break must be provided for a shift lasting 3 1/2 to 6 hours, two rest breaks must be provided for a shift lasting 6 to 10 hours, and three rest breaks for a shift lasting 10 to 14 hours.  For an 8 hour shift, in general one rest break should be scheduled before the meal period and one rest break should be scheduled after the meal period.  Unlike meal breaks, rest breaks should still be scheduled near the middle of the applicable period when practical.

For more on this case, see this LA Times blog post, a restaurant industry trade paper’s reaction, and nolo.com’s take on this case.

For answers to frequently asked questions on rest breaks and meal breaks, see our website page on this.


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