The California Supreme Court issued its landmark decision today in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court. Among several key issues decided by the Court was whether California employers need only provide meal breaks to employees or whether they must ensure that meal breaks are actually taken. In an unanimous opinion authored by Justice Kathryn Werdegar, the Court held that “[t]he employer’s obligation is to relieve its employee of all duty, with the employee thereafter at liberty to use the meal period for whatever purpose he or she desires, but the employer need not ensure that no work is done.”
The Court also decided an important issue regarding the timing of meal breaks. The Court held that employers must provide a first meal break no later than the end of the employee’s fifth hour of work, and a second meal break no later than the end of an employee’s tenth hour of work. However, the Court held that an employer is not required to provide meal breaks at five hour intervals throughout the employee’s shift. This means that a second meal break is not required before the end of an employee’s tenth hour of work if the first meal break occurred earlier than the end of the employee’s fifth hour of work.
On the related issue of an employer’s duty to provide rest periods, the Court held that employees are entitled to a ten minute rest break for shifts from three-and-a-half hours to six hours in length, a second ten minute rest break for shifts of more than six hours to ten hours in length, a third rest break for shifts of more than ten hours to fourteen hours in length, and so on. Regarding the timing of rest breaks, the Court held that rest breaks need not necessarily occur before a meal break, but that employers should make a good faith effort to authorize rest breaks in the middle of each work period.
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