CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT rules against employees and holds that employers have no duty to ensure that employees take meal or rest breaks. This is a huge case and a significant defeat for employees. In its ruling the court held that if a company provides a meal or rest break that meets the statutory requirement of Labor Code section 512 and the interpretive regulations. In its 54-page opinion, the Court concluded that an employer’s obligation is to relieve its employees of all duty during meal periods, leaving the employees at liberty to use the period for whatever purpose they desire, but that an employer need not ensure no work is done.
“The difficulty with the view that an employer must ensure no work is done — i.e., prohibit work — is that it lacks any textual basis in the wage order or statute,” said Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar
“While at one time the (Industrial Welfare Commission)’s wage orders contained language clearly imposing on employers a duty to prevent their employees from working during meal periods, we have found no order in the last half-century continuing that obligation.”
Werdegar continued, “Indeed, the obligation to ensure employees do no work may in some instances be inconsistent with the fundamental employer obligations associated with a meal break: to relieve the employee of all duty and relinquish any employer control over the employee and how he or she spends the time.”
Of course, this leads the door wide open to abuse. An employer now has only to publish a policy stating that meal breaks are available and then simply not give that break. For example, If you are working on a machine that runs continuously and you cannot leave without a replacement, you have no choice but to keep working. So too, if you are obligated to meet milestones or lose your job, do you work during lunch? You bet you do. Businesses now are free to assume that people will “choose” to work through lunch to meet their target, quota, or milestone. In other words, the entire workforce will become “volunteers” during their lunch period so long as the employer posts a bogus notice “entitling” employees to a lunch break. For employees, this decision imposes a de facto 9 hour work day.
As to when meal periods must be provided, the Court ruled a first meal break generally must fall no later than five hours into an employee’s shift. However, an employer does not need to schedule meal breaks at five-hour intervals throughout the shift.
With respect to breaks, the Court found that employees are entitled to 10 minutes of rest for shifts from three and one-half to six hours in length, and to another 10 minutes rest for shifts from six to 10 hours in length. Rest periods need not be timed in relation to meal periods.
This is very bad news for California workers and a victory for business. This properly, in our opinion, should become a political issue. The Supreme Court has handed a major victory to the capitalist classes and the worker and has essentially created a 9 hour work day. In other words the Court has taken us back 80 years