Will California Start Requiring That Employers Police Worker Meal Breaks?

An Oregon Court of Appeals recently issued a decision that held that Oregon employers were required to police worker meal breaks. Under the applicable Oregon law and Wage Orders, workers are entitled to an uninterrupted 30-minute meal break for every six hours of work. The Oregon Wage Orders and statutory language are similar to the laws and regulations here in the Golden State. Until recently, the Oregon courts had held that there was no duty by the employer to police meal breaks. As long as the opportunity to take the meal break was offered, the employer had no liability. The new case — Maza v. Waterford Operations, LLC, 300 Or. App. 471 (Or. App. November 14, 2019) — has changed to the rule. Now, Oregon employers will be strictly liable for paying the meal-break premium if the worker does not receive the full break.

Given the worker-friendly stance of lawmakers in Sacramento and given the political affinity between California and Oregon lawmakers, it is reasonable to wonder if this change is coming to California in the near future. Under current California law, employers here in San Diego and elsewhere in California do not have to police meal periods to ensure that employees are not working. This is the holding of Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court of San Diego County, 273 P. 3d 513 (Cal. Supreme Court 2012). The employer is free of liability if all of these conditions are met:

  • The employer relieves its workers of all duties
  • Relinquishes control over the workers and their activities
  • Gives the workers a “reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break” and
  • Does not “impede or discourage” the workers from taking their meal breaks

The employer in the Oregon case satisfied the Brinker Restaurant test. In the Oregon case, the employer, Waterford Operations, relieved its employees of work for the full 30-minute break, instituted company policies listed in its employee handbook expressly stating that meal breaks were mandatory and that meal breaks could not be waived. Training was in place for supervisors and procedures were in place for workers to notify human resources if meal breaks were not given or were shortened. Despite the foregoing, the Oregon Court of Appeals held that an employer was strictly liable if any employees began working sooner than the end of their 30-minute meal break.

The new rule will be burdensome to Oregon employers (as would such a rule be here in California). Employers now must implement policies to ensure that workers take their full 30-minute breaks. With clock-in-clock-out employees, the solution might be technical — reprogram the timing software to prevent clocking-back-in until the full 30 minutes has elapsed. If employers are not currently using a clocking procedure, it may be necessary to institute one. Remote and work-from-home employees are particularly difficult to police. This may require changes to the quantity and types of workers that are allowed to work remotely. Some of these changes to policies and procedures might be valuable to consider even if California does not follow Oregon with respect to policing worker meal breaks. If you have questions about how to write and set up your company policies, seek advice and counsel from an experienced San Diego corporate attorney.

Call San Diego Corporate Law Today

For more information, call corporate attorney Michael Leonard, Esq., of San Diego Corporate Law. Mr. Leonard has been named as “Best of the Bar” by the San Diego Business Journal for four years running. Mr. Leonard has extensive experience in drafting employee policies, employee handbooks, employment contracts, and all other contracts and agreements necessary for running your business. Mr. Leonard can be reached at (858) 483-9200 or via email. Like us on Facebook.

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