Meals and Rest Period Violations Just Got More Expensive

The California Supreme Court issued a decision recently that resolved a substantial question on the monetary exposure facing an employer for violations of the meal and/or rest period requirements imposed by California law - and it was not favorable to employers.

Under California law, non-exempt employees are entitled to an unpaid duty-free 30 minute meal period after working for five hours, and an on-the-clock duty-free 10 minute rest period for each fours hours worked. An employer is obligated to pay an employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate for each work day that a required meal or rest period is not provided. The issue addressed by the Supreme Court was whether that additional hour of pay constitutes a "wage" or a "penalty".

The Supreme Court determined that this additional hour of pay required for violations of the meal or rest period requirements constitutes a “wage”, not a “penalty”. This determination allows an employee to seek damages for violations of the meal and/or rest period laws over a four year period of time as opposed to one year if the Court classified the additional hour of pay as a “penalty”.

Employers can take steps to insure compliance with the meal and rest period requirements and protect itself in case it is sued for alleged violations. Some steps include training managers on the meal and rest period requirements, and requiring that employees acknowledge, in writing, they have been advised of their right to meal and rest periods. Employers are well served to consult with legal counsel on what additional steps can be taken to protect themselves from claims for meal and/or rest period violations.

Bob Caietti is a partner with Walters & Caietti, APC, specializing in labor and employment law. The firm's Temecula office is located at 40140 Winchester Rd., Ste. C, 951.693.2024 its San Diego office is located at 3655 Nobel Dr., Ste. 510, San Diego CA 92122, 858.623,5655,and is on the web at Bob's email is