On April 12, 2012, the California Supreme Court issued its decision in the Brinker Restaurant case clarifying a number of issues including the responsibilities of employers in complying with California law concerning meal periods for non-exempt employees.  Below are the major holdings of the Brinker case regarding meal periods.    

1.  Meal Period Police are Not Required: 
The Court found that the employer’s duty to provide a meal period is limited to relieving “the 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.”  However, the Court noted that Employers cannot impede or discourage employees from doing no work during their meal period.

2.  A Brunch is As Good As a Lunch: 
Rest breaks and meal breaks do not have to be in a certain order.  Although the Court held that within an 8 hour shift one rest break should usually fall on either side of a meal break, it also noted that longer or shorter shifts or other factors could render such scheduling impractical. In Brinker, shifts that started with a meal period followed by a rest period were found to comply with the law.

3.  No Late Lunches: 
Lunches must be provided no later than the end of a 5 hour shift unless the entire shift is no more than six hours, and the employee consents to a mutually agreed upon written waiver.

4.  No Second Lunch is Required Until the Clock Strikes 10: 
The Brinker Court rejected the argument that an employee must have a second meal period five hours after the first meal period based on a “rolling 5 hour period”.  Instead the right to a second meal period only occurs when the employee has worked more than a 10 hour day.

 Brinker also has some important holdings regarding rest periods which we will address in a subsequent blog.