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In recent years, the discussion around employers’ responsibilities to provide meal and rest breaks has intensified, particularly given the steady increase in class action and representative claims filed under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA). In 2012, the California Supreme Court decided Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior Court, which clarified the obligations of California employers regarding wage and hour litigation, highlighting the importance of regular reviews and audits of meal and rest break policies. Below are five key points employers should remember:

  1. Timing of Breaks:
    • Meal Breaks: According to the California Supreme Court’s decision in Brinker, employers must offer the first meal break by the end of the fifth hour of work and a second meal period by the end of the tenth hour.
    • Rest Breaks: Employees are entitled to 10 minutes of rest for shifts lasting 3.5 to 6 hours, 20 minutes for shifts over 6 hours up to 10 hours, and 30 minutes for shifts extending beyond 10 hours up to 14 hours. Rest breaks should ideally occur in the middle of the work period, as far as is practical.
  2. Rules on Waiving Breaks:
    • Meal Breaks: Meal breaks may be waived if the shift is under six hours. If an employer allows a full 30-minute break, employees may choose to skip it without resulting in a violation.  However, if the employee voluntarily works through a break, this must be clearly documented in a manner that cannot be subsequently challenged by a disgruntled employee.
    • Rest Breaks: Employees can also waive rest breaks provided they are allowed and able to take their complete 10-minute rest at designated times.
  3. Timekeeping Requirements:
    • Employers must record meal breaks taken by employees. However, recording 10-minute rest breaks is not mandated.
  4. Procedures for Reporting Missed Breaks:
    • It’s crucial for employers to establish and maintain clear procedures that allow employees to report any missed meal or rest breaks. This system helps defend against claims by showing that employees had a way to report violations but did not do so.
  5. No Rounding Off Meal Break Times:

These guidelines emphasize the necessity for California employers to rigorously enforce and adhere to detailed meal and rest break rules to avoid legal repercussions and ensure compliance with labor laws.