In a unanimous 7-0 decision delivered on April 13, 2012, the California Supreme Court ruled that California employers must provide a 30 minute uninterrupted meal break for non-exempt (hourly) employees if the employee works more than five hours, but employers have no duty to make certain the employee does not perform any work during that time.
California employers and employment lawyers have closely watched this wage-and-hour case involving Brinker International Inc., a Dallas based restaurant operator whose brands include Chili’s Grill & Bar and Maggiano’s Little Italy. In 2002, the California Department of Labor Standards and Enforcement originally investigated Brinker to determine if Brinker was in compliance with California rest and meal break requirements. In 2004, a class action lawsuit was filed by Brinker employees in the San Diego Superior Court. Brinker ultimately paid $10 million to settle the lawsuit by the state agency.
In the Supreme Court’s decision, they unanimously ruled, “We conclude an 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 clarification that this ruling relieves California employers from having to “police meal breaks and ensure no work thereafter is performed” will have a broad impact on all types of California employers.