Los Angeles Business Journal

State High Court Overturns Work-Break Rule

By Howard Fine Thursday, April 12, 2012

In a major victory for California employers, the state Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that employers are not obligated to ensure that workers stop work during required meal and rest periods.

Employers also are not required to provide meal breaks at regular intervals during workers’ shifts.

The highly anticipated opinion represents a major victory for employers, who have long said the state’s rules on meal and rest periods are confusing and leave employers open to costly class-action lawsuits.

The ruling arose out of a case initially filed nine years ago by restaurant workers in California against Brinker International, the Dallas-based parent of Chili’s, Romano’s Macaroni Grill and other restaurants. The workers had alleged restaurant managers failed to provide meal and rest breaks at regular intervals as required under state law.

In its unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court said that state law does not require employers to ensure that employees cease all work during meal periods. The employer is only obligated to stipulate that meal and rest periods are “duty free.”

“The employer is not obligated to police meal breaks and ensure no work thereafter is performed,” Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote in the opinion.

The ruling was welcomed by business groups.

“Employers have finally received some much-need clarity in a common sense direction from the Court that will allow employers and employees to effectively manage their workload and serve their customers and clients,” said Erika Frank, general counsel for the California Chamber of Commerce.

“One of the most significant benefits of this ruling is that it will reduce employers’ exposure to costly and frivolous litigation,” Frank said.

Labor groups had yet to comment on the decision.