CASE ALERT: California Supreme Court Hands Down Brinker Decision
April 12 2012
As many readers of this Blog know, we’ve been awaiting the California Supreme Court to issue its decision in the Brinker case. This morning it did so. As our attorneys continue to analyze the decision involving issues of employee rest periods and meal breaks, we will be publishing several blog updates in the coming days discussing the impact of the decision on California employers.
In the meantime, we wanted to give you three brief takeaways from today’s decision:
• Meal Period: The Court held that when an employee is entitled to a meal break, an employer’s obligation is to relieve the employee of all work duties during that time but that the employer does not have an obligation to ensure that the employee does no work during the meal period. However, as Justice Werdegar points out in her concurring opinion, the burden remains on the employer to prove that an employee was provided with a meal break. Practically speaking employers will want to have documents and practices in place that demonstrate: (1) a policy of relieving employees of all duty obligations during the meal period; (2) a policy prohibiting any supervisor from encouraging or coercing an employee from working during or through a meal period; and (3) to train supervisors on this standard. Employers may also wish to adopt a policy by which employees should report any meal period denial.
• Rest Period Timing: The Brinker plaintiffs argued that an employer was required to provide at least one rest period before any meal period. Plaintiffs wanted to prevent employers from requiring employees to take an “early lunch”, i.e. requiring a meal break at the beginning of an employee’s shift. The Court rejected plaintiffs’ argument and held that there was no requirement regarding the timing of meal periods vs. rest periods.
• Uniform Policies and Class Actions: The Brinker employee-plaintiffs were subgrouped into three classes for certification: (1) those alleging rest break violations; (2) those alleging meal break violations; and (3) those alleging “off the clock work” violations. The Court held that the first group (rest breaks) should be class certified; the third group (“off the clock”) should not be class certified and that the lower court should reanalyze whether to certify the second group (meal breaks) in light of the Court’s meal break ruling described above. The Court’s ruling suggests that when employees are covered by a uniform policy of the employer, it is more likely that class certification will be granted. Given that there was no uniform policy regarding “off the clock work,” the Court held that it was improper to certify this class of employees since each case of “off the clock work” would have to be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Please follow this Blog for further updates regarding this landmark decision.