Over the past decade, plaintiffs have filed hundreds of class actions alleging that California employers have failed to “provide” meal breaks. The California Supreme court finally handed down some rules in 2012, in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, 53 Cal. 4th 1004:
- An employer may not employ a person for more than 5 hours in a day without providing a meal break of at least 30 minutes, or more than 10 hours without providing a second 30 minute meal break.
- An employer must relieve the employee of all duty for a required meal break, but the employer need not ensure that the employee does no work: “The employer satisfies this obligation if it relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities and permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30–minute break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so.” Brinker, 53 Cal. 4th at 1040.
- Absent a waiver by the employee, a first meal break must begin no later than the start of an employee’s sixth hour of work.
- Absent a waiver by the employee, a second meal break must begin no later than the start of the 11th hour of work, but the second meal break may begin later than 5 hours after the end of the first meal period.
But, you may ask, does the government mandate over employee eating schedules know no bounds? Are there no exceptions?