Brinker Decision and Rest Periods « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles

Brinker Decision and Rest Periods

California Employers Get a Break

The California Supreme Court has recently clarified this state’s workplace rest period laws.  Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (Hohnbaum) (April 12, 2012).

California law requires employers to provide their hourly employees with one paid 10-minute rest break for every four hours worked or “major fraction thereof.”  The Court confirmed “major fraction thereof” as “more than half.” Obviously, more than half of four hours is thus two hours and one minute.  Thus, the Court directed that if an employee works six hours and one minute, the employer must provide that person with two paid 10-minute breaks must be provided.  A worker who puts in ten hours and one minute has the right to three paid breaks.  (However, this rule does not apply to the first hours worked in a day.  Employers do not have to give employees any rest breaks if the total work for the day is less than 3.5 hours.  See, “Employee Meal Periods and Rest Breaks: California’s Basic Requirements for Daily R&R)

An employer’s (and worker’s) tendencies would of course be to schedule such breaks in the middle of each four-hour increment of work, with the required meal period in the middle of those two increments in the workday.  However, the Brinker Court observed that this is not always practical, depending on the business.

For example, the Brinker case involved restaurant workers for whom a break in the middle of each of two daily major work intervals (e.g., morning and afternoon shifts) or a meal falling in the middle of the workday (e.g., at the business world’s lunchtime) might not be workable.  Restaurant service personnel depend on tips and would thus resist having to go off of their positions if the establishment happens to be busy at any officially designated break or meal time.

In recognition of such realities, the Brinker Court dictated that there is no rigid rule on the timing of meal periods and rest breaks.  For example, an employer is not even required to designate that a worker’s first rest break precede that person’s mid-workday meal period.   The Court only directed that a employee take the rest break as close to the middle of any four hour work period “insofar as practicable.”

Unlike meal breaks, rest periods are counted as time worked and are compensable.  Therefore, employers may require their employees to take their rest breaks on premises.

Employers who fail to provide an employee with required rest breaks must pay the employee one hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay for each workday that one or more rest periods are not provided.  However, only one hour of premium pay is due no matter how many rest breaks an employee missed in a day.  See Division of Labor Standards Enforcement Manual Section 45.3.7

For assistance in implementing meal and rest periods laws into your business, contact an employment law attorney.

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