Brinker Case Settles for $56 Million

California Restaurant Workers Settle High Profile Wage and Hour Class Action Lawsuit

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After waging a 10-year legal battle, Brinker Restaurant Corp., the parent company for Chili’s and Maggiano’s restaurant chains, has settled its wage and hour class action lawsuit. On August 6, 2014, the parties reached a preliminary agreement to resolve all 120,000 class members’ claims in exchange for a maximum settlement payment of $56.5 million. The settlement terms remain subject to court approval.

This highly publicized case, which wound its way up to the California Supreme Court two years ago, affects all California employers. In its much-anticipated 2012 ruling, the high court held businesses must provide uninterrupted 30-minute meal breaks to their workers but are not obligated to ensure that no work is done during any such break. The Court cautioned that employers must not “impede or discourage” employees from taking that uninterrupted time off.

The Court also clarified California’s workplace rest period laws, ruling that employers must provide their hourly employees with one paid 10-minute rest break for every four hours worked or every “major fraction thereof.”

Brinker’s $56 million settlement serves as an important reminder for management to revisit meal and rest break policies. Among other things, workplace policy should clearly specify:

  • the minimum daily working hours that trigger one or more unpaid 30 minute meal breaks;
  • the minimum working shift hours that trigger each paid 10 minute rest period;
  • employee obligations to accurately record working periods, including the entries that will frame unpaid, off-work meal breaks;
  • management’s commitment to scheduling meal and rest break periods and to fielding any employee concerns over such matters;
  • procedure for employee complaints over meal and rest break practices or incidents and their resolution; and
  • forms for employees to periodically confirm (or contest) that any and all skipped breaks in a given recent period have been voluntary.

Of course, employers must always pay employees for all time worked including any meal breaks skipped at a worker’s option.

We’ve covered earlier rulings in past blogs, “Brinkers New Rules for Meal and Rest breaks”, “Brinker: Employees May Skip Breaks”, “Brinker: Clocking In on Employee Timekeeping”, “Brinker Decision and Rest Periods” and “Brinker: California’s Meal Break Breakthrough“. For information concerning meal and rest periods and related workplace practices, as well as model employee policies and forms, contact one of our attorneys Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

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