Brinker Confirms Practical Approach to Meal Breaks

16 April 2012 Labor & Employment Law Perspectives Blog
Authors: Jeremy J. Bledsoe

The long-awaited decision in Brinker Restaurant v. Superior Court (Honhbaum) makes clear that employers do not need to force employees to take their meal breaks. Instead, an employer satisfies its duty under California’s meal period and rest break laws by relieving its employees of all duties, relinquishing control over their activities and permitting them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and not impeding or discouraging them from doing so. The Court made clear that “the employer is not obligated to police meal breaks and ensure no work thereafter is performed. Bona fide relief from duty and the relinquishing of control satisfies the employer’s obligations.”

 The Court further clarified that if the employee voluntarily chooses to continue to work during his or her break, “the employer will not be liable for premium pay. At most, it will be liable for straight pay, and then only when it ‘knew or reasonably should have known that the worker was working through the authorized meal period.’” However, if an employer encourages the employee to do work during the meal break or otherwise effectively precludes the employee from taking a 30-minute meal break, the employer may then be liable for failing to provide required breaks. For additional information, Foley Partner John Douglas authored an article that appeared in Employment Law360 on November 14, 2011 titled, “On the Brink of Deciding Brinker.”

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