Posts

Missed Meal Break Claims Results in Multiple Violations

Almost every wage and hour lawsuit and Labor Commissioner claim that I’ve seen in the past 10 years has included a claim for missed meal and/or rest breaks. Employers who fail to provide at least one half-hour unpaid meal break whenever an employee works more than 5 hours is liable for one hour’s pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay. As Kaanaana v. Barrett Business Services, Inc. reveals, the “premium pay” is not the only liability.

Sometimes the employer has no record of the hours worked. This is problematic because the Labor Code and the Wage Orders require employers to maintain accurate records of the hours worked, including the times when lunch breaks begin and end. When an employer fails to maintain accurate records of the hours worked, the employee’s testimony alone is sufficient to establish the number of hours worked. This means an employee who testifies she did not receive a full half-hour lunch break will likely carry the day unless the employer has specific evidence to rebut the employee’s testimony.

Sometimes the employer allows employees to take the lunch but does not require the employee to clock out for lunch breaks. Instead, the employer automatically deducts a certain amount of time from the employees hour. This is problematic because the time records are not accurate, which means we default to the employee’s testimony. We have no way of showing how long the break lasted. The court may be required to base its decision on the employee’s testimony.

But what happens when the employer records show the employee clocking in and out for lunch, but the meal break is less than the full 30-minutes? In Kaanaana, the time records showed the employee breaks oftentimes were only 26-minutes because the supervisors gathered the workers before the break ended to ensure they were back at the line within 30 minutes.

The employees filed a class action lawsuit alleging they were owed the premium pay under Labor Code 226.7 because they did not receive the full 30-minute meal period. The employees also argued that because the meal period was “truncated,” it was an “on-duty meal period,” and the employer should pay for the entire 30-minute meal period. The employees sought liquidated damages under Labor Code 1194.2 for failing to pay minimum wage for the entire meal period and “waiting time” penalties under Labor code 203 for failing to pay all wages owed at the end of the employment. Finally, the employees sought PAGA penalties for the missed meal breaks.

The employer argued the employees were only entitled to the premium pay. Barrett Business Services argued the few minutes missed were de minimus, and therefore not compensable.

The court concluded the employees were not entitled to payment for the entire meal period, but were entitled to payment for the 3 to 5 minutes they actually worked during the meal period:

the right to be free from employer control for a 30-minute meal period, and the right to be paid for time worked during that meal period, are distinct rights with distinct remedies. The remedy for an employer violation of the former right is the hour of premium pay provided under section 226.7. The remedy for the latter is payment of wages for time worked (see § 1194), along with any applicable penalties for the failure to pay for time worked when the wages were due. But we find no persuasive basis in legal authorities to support plaintiffs’ claim that their remedy for time worked during the meal period is payment of wages for the full 30-minute meal period, rather than payment of wages for the three to five minutes actually worked.

While acknowledging that the Wage Order could be interpreted to require payment for the entire meal period, the court believed “that a truncated meal period, such as occurred in this case, is not in every case the equivalent of an on-duty meal period.”

The court determined the employees could recover liquidated damages for the 3 to 5 minutes the employees worked during the lunch break, and the employees could recover waiting time penalties since the employees worked time (albeit just a few minutes) without compensation.

The court remanded the case back to the trial court to determine what PAGA penalties to award, but reminded the court that the court could award less than the full PAGA penalties “if, based on the facts and circumstances of the particular case, to do otherwise would result in an award that is unjust, arbitrary and oppressive, or confiscatory.”

In February 2019, the California Supreme Court granted review of Kaanaana v. Barrett Business Services, Inc., but on a different issue.

I have some suggestions for employers that want to avoid meal break problems, or at least provide a defensible position if a dispute arises:

  • Make sure employees are afforded and take the full 30-minute meal period.
  • Publish the company’s official–and compliant–meal and rest break policy.
  • Keep accurate records of hours worked including meal breaks.
  • Never automatically deduct time from an employee’s record of hours worked. Only deduct time if the employee confirms (preferably in writing) the employee forgot to clock out.
  • Never require employees to return to work from their breaks early. Err on the side of granting more time than required.

If you have questions about implementing or enforcing appropriate workplace policies, or if you believe your company is not complying with the law, the Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. represents employers and employees in variety of employment matters including meal and rest break claims. Contact our office for more information.

Original Article by Robert Nuddleman of the Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

Feel free to suggest topics for the blog. We are happy to consider topics pertaining to general points of Labor and Employment Law. We cannot answer questions about specific situations or provide legal advice over the Internet. If you desire legal advice, you should contact an attorney.

Using this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. Using the Internet or this blog to communicate with the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Do not post confidential or time-sensitive information in this blog. The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. cannot guarantee the confidentiality of anything posted on this blog.

The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. represents employers and employees in a wide range of employment law matters. Much of his practice focuses on wage and hour issues, such as unpaid overtime, meal and rest break violations, designing or enforcing commission plans, and other wage-related claims. He also advises employers on how to avoid harassment and wrongful termination claims, and represents employees who have been victims of unlawful discrimination, retaliation or harassment. The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. helps employers develop good employment policies, and helps employers and employees with disability accommodation issues.

Rest Break Reminder

A few months ago I wrote about Augustus v. ABM Security Services, where the court said employer must relieve employees of all duties in order for a rest break to be valid. ABM required the security guards to carry pagers, radios or cell phones during breaks. The court concluded on-call rest breaks are the same as no rest breaks.

Revision to Rest Break Decision

The California Supreme Court revised the opinion slightly, but the holding still stands.  The court changed final sentence in the Conclusion and so that the complete Conclusion now reads as follows:

California law requires employers to relieve their employees of all work-related duties and employer control during 10-minute rest periods.  The trial court’s summary adjudication and summary judgment orders were premised on this understanding of the law.  Rightly so: Wage Order 4, subdivision 12(A) and section 226.7 prohibit on-duty rest periods. What they require instead is that employers relinquish any control over how employees spend their break time, and relieve their employees of all duties—including the obligation that an employee remain on call.  A rest period, in short, must be a period of rest.  We accordingly reverse the Court of Appeal’s judgment on this issue.  The matter is remanded to the Court of Appeal for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

This is not a big shocker, but it is language to remember. Employees must receive duty-free rest breaks. Employers cannot exercise any control over the employee during the rest break. Companies should review their rest break policies to ensure they are relieving employees of all duties during the rest breaks.

Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman of Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

Feel free to suggest topics for the blog. We are happy to consider topics pertaining to general points of Labor and Employment Law. We cannot answer questions about specific situations or provide legal advice over the Internet. If you desire legal advice, you should contact an attorney.

Using this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. Using the Internet or this blog to communicate with the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Do not post confidential or time-sensitive information in this blog. The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. cannot guarantee the confidentiality of anything posted to this blog.

The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. represents employees and businesses throughout Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area including Pleasanton, Oakland, San Ramon, Hayward, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Los Altos, San Jose, the South Bay Area, Campbell, Los Gatos, Cupertino, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, Saratoga, and Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Benito, Mendocino, and Calaveras counties.

On-Duty Meal Agreement in Care Homes

 

Most employees in California are entitled to a 30-minute uninterrupted meal break when the employee works at least 5 hours in a day. Employers that fail to provide the required meal break may be subject to a penalty equal to one hour at the employee’s regular rate of pay.  When “the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty,” and when the employer and employee enter into a written on-duty meal agreement, the employer may be able to avoid the penalty.  The on-duty meal agreement, however, must “state that the employee may, in writing, revoke the agreement at any time.”

In Palacio v. Jan & Gail’s Care Homes, Inc., an employee brought a class action alleging the employer failed to inform the employees that they had a right to revoke the company’s on-duty meal agreement.  The court not only denied class certification, but also held the care homes do not have to tell employees they can revoke an on-duty meal agreement.

Care Homes do not have to tell employees they can revoke an on-duty meal agreement

But, why?  If the regulations require on-duty meal agreements to contain a provision that the employee may revoke the agreement in writing, how come the court said the employer did not have to have such a provision in the agreement?  Because a different part of the regulations specifically state:

Employees with direct responsibility for children who are under 18 years of age or who are not emancipated from the foster care system and who, in either case, are receiving 24-hour residential care, and employees of 24-hour residential care facilities for the elderly, blind or developmentally disabled individuals may be required to work on-duty meal periods without penalty when necessary to meet regulatory or approved program standards and one of the following two conditions is met:

(1) (a) The residential care employees eats with residents during residents’ meals and the employer provides the same meal at no charge to the employee; or

(b) The employee is in sole charge of the resident(s) and, on the day shift, the employer provides a meal at no charge to the employee.

So, while most employers that can use on-duty meal agreements must inform employees of the right to revoke the on-duty meal agreement at any time, Care Homes do not have to tell employees they can revoke an on-duty meal agreement.  Employers should also be aware that not ever employer can use an on-duty meal agreement.

If you have a question about your on-duty meal agreement, or whether such an agreement is appropriate in your workplace, contact an attorney familiar with on-duty meal agreements.