Supreme Court Decides Brinker–Employers Must Merely Provide Breaks

By: Sam G. Sherman, Esq.

The California Supreme Court decided Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Sup. Ct. today. Of course, employers throughout the state have been watching this case closely and waiting to see whether the Supreme Court would require employers to “ensure” employees take meal breaks, or merely “provide” employees with those breaks.

Ultimately, the Court decided the following:

  1. Employers are obligated to afford hourly employees meal and rest periods and to relieve employees of all duties during those meal and rest periods. However, the employer must not “ensure” an employee actually takes a break or that the employee performs no work during the break. The employee is at liberty to use the break for whatever purpose he or she desires.
  2. A first meal period must generally fall no later than five hours into an employee’s shift and a second meal break provided after no more than ten hours of work. However, an employer has no obligation to schedule meal breaks at five hour intervals throughout the shift.
  3. Concerning rest breaks, an employee is entitled to a 10 minute rest break for shifts lasting from three and one-half hours to six hours in length. An employer must provide a second rest break for shifts from six hours to ten hours in length.
  4. Employers need only use good-faith to give required rest periods in the middle of shift, but “may deviate from that preferred course where practical considerations render it feasible.”

This is a significant win for employers. As many predicted, the Court did not impose a rule requiring employers to ensure its employees perform no work during meal and rest breaks. That being said, employers must carefully review their employee handbooks and internal policies to ensure the timing of meal and rest breaks complies with the Court’s order.

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