California Supreme Court Rules on Employer Meal and Rest Break Obligations

The California Supreme Court has issued a decision that clarifies employer obligations for meal and rest breaks, and the timing of those breaks.

In Brinker Restaurant Corporation v. Superior Court of San Diego, the court concluded that once an employer relieves their hourly employee for a meal break, employees are at liberty to use their time for whatever purpose they desire. Thus, employers are only required to provide the break, not to ensure that no work is done during the break.

Also, the court concluded that the first meal break generally must fall no later than five hours into an employee’s shift, but an employer need not schedule meal breaks at five hour intervals throughout the shift.

In regards to rest periods, the court explained that employees are entitled to one 10-minute rest break for shifts from three and a half to six hours in length, and two 10-minute breaks for shifts of more than six to 10 hours.

“Consequently, for example, if, periodically and rarely, an hourly employee misses a lunch break due to his/her own choice, then the employer would have to compensate for that time worked, but not be liable for the one-hour penalty,” explains Jennifer Jech Simonson, Roth Staffing General Counsel and Senior Vice President.

This ruling does not change California law, which still requires employers to provide employees with at least a 30-minute meal break for a work period of more than five hours and a 10-minute rest break per four hours worked or major fraction thereof. Rather Brinker simply says that employers are not required to force employees not to work during their breaks.

To learn more about the decision, please visit the following link to the California Supreme Court Web site: ttp://

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