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Meal and Rest Breaks: Where does the Supreme Court Stand?

In 2012, the California Supreme Court decided Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court.

The question in Brinker was whether employers must ensure breaks are taken or must simply provide breaks.

The California Supreme Court ultimately ruled in Brinker’s favor on the most critical part of the decision – holding that employers do not have to ensure employees take their meal breaks. Once the meal period is provided, there is no duty to police meal breaks to ensure no work is being done.

Prior to Brinker, a debate raged between the plaintiff’s employment bar and the employer’s attorneys with respect to what measures an employer was required to take to comply with the law. Employee’s attorneys argued that the employer was required to virtually guarantee that the employee received their meal and rest periods. They argued that an employer was required to monitor an employee to make sure that they took their meal and rest periods.

The employer’s attorneys argued against this. They contended that all the employer had to do was to make meal and rest periods “available” to the employees such that if the employee wanted to take a break they could. Essentially, this means that all the employer has to do is to include meal and rest period policies in their employee handbooks that are consistent with California law.

However, many situations exist where an employer assigns so much work to an employee, and demands that the work be completed in a very limited time, such that it is, practically speaking, impossible for the employee to perform all of the work duties while also taking their breaks. This led to situations where employees would routinely and falsely represent that they were taking their 30 minute breaks and their rest breaks when in fact they were not. Employees frequently fear that they will get into trouble if they reported to the employer that they in fact took their meal rest periods