The long-awaited decision in Brinker Restaurant v. Superior Court
(Honhbaum) makes clear that employers do not need to force
employees to take their meal breaks. Instead, an employer satisfies
its duty under California's meal period and rest break laws by
relieving its employees of all duties, relinquishing control over
their activities and permitting them a reasonable opportunity to
take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and not impeding or
discouraging them from doing so. The Court made clear that
"the employer is not obligated to police meal breaks and
ensure no work thereafter is performed. Bona fide relief from duty
and the relinquishing of control satisfies the employer's
The Court further clarified that if the employee voluntarily
chooses to continue to work during his or her break, "the
employer will not be liable for premium pay. At most, it will be
liable for straight pay, and then only when it 'knew or
reasonably should have known that the worker was working through
the authorized meal period.'" However, if an employer
encourages the employee to do work during
the meal break or otherwise effectively precludes the employee from
taking a 30-minute meal break, the employer may then be liable for
failing to provide required breaks. For additional information,
Foley Partner John Douglas authored an article that appeared in
Employment Law360 on November 14, 2011 titled, "
On the Brink of Deciding Brinker."
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Policy language which had been commonplace and acceptable for decades has suddenly been deemed to have a "chilling" effect on employee rights under federal labor law, and therefore, is illegal under the National Labor Relations Act.
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