The California Supreme Court has ruled that employers only have to provide meal periods to workers, they do not have to make sure that employees actually take them.
This decision is part of an active class-action lawsuit against Brinkers International Inc, which owns Chili’s and Romano’s Macaroni Grills.
In 2008, a California appeals court sided with Brinker, finding that the restaurant company only had to “make available” the meal and rest breaks, but not “ensure” they were taken. The state’s Supreme Court agreed that employers do not have to police meal breaks but do need to relieve workers of duties at those times.
A commentary about the decision at CBS’s MoneyWatch summed up the ruling as a win-win for employers and workers alike:
“Why is this ruling good for employees and employers alike? Because it treats everyone like grown-ups. Companies aren’t required to pay their employees for breaks of 20 minutes or longer, but are required to pay for shorter breaks… Of course, if an employee does not take a break, the employer must pay for the time worked. (And you can certainly be fired for working off the clock.) ”
While the lawsuit is still working its way through the system, this decision is a welcomed clarification for employers navigating the ambiguities around break and rest periods for wage workers in California.