CAUTIONARY TALES EPISODE 27 « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


Walmart Hit with Six Million Dollar Verdict for “Discouraging” Off-Site Meal Breaks

California employers must provide non-overtime-exempt employees unpaid meal break(s) based on the number of hours worked in a given day. See, Required Meal Periods and Rest Breaks Revisited (April, 2018).

The California Supreme Court’s 2012 Brinker Restaurant Corp. decision clarified that “employer-provided” breaks does not mean companies have to police workplaces to ensure employees take their meals. Rather, California employers must relieve employees of all duty, relinquish control over their activities, and permit them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break on or off the worksite without “impeding or discouraging” them from doing so.

In Chelsea Hamilton et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. et al, two plaintiff-employees brought a class action on behalf of 5,000 non-exempt co-workers at Walmart’s Chino, California fulfillment center. They alleged that each time employees left the building they had to go through anti-theft metal detectors, potentially cutting into their 30-minute breaks, thus dissuading them from leaving the building to eat lunch.

In defense, Walmart established one of the named plaintiffs took her meal breaks outside the workplace while citing plaintiffs’ own expert on over 30,000 instances of class members taking meal periods of at least 30 minutes outside the facility.

The court noted, however, that plaintiffs were not required to show the security check actually prevented them or others from taking off-site meal breaks; they only needed to present evidence from which a jury could conclude that the security check impeded or discouraged them from doing so.

The jury returned a unanimous verdict for the employees, awarding over $6 million in damages. Walmart is appealing.

Whatever this case’s ultimate outcome, employers should implement policies and procedures to unequivocally encourage employees to take off-site meal breaks. If workers must undergo security checks before leaving for such breaks, employers should also consider installing a remotely-located timeclock beyond the security checkpoint so that employees can clock out for lunch after completing the security check.

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For further information, please contact Tim BowlesCindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

Cindy Bamforth

May 23, 2019