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California Supreme Court: Employers Cannot Round Time For Meal Breaks

Posted on April 18, 2021 | Employment Law,Firm News,Wage & Hour Laws

Recently, The California Supreme Court in Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC decided “that employers cannot engage in the practice of rounding time punches — that is, adjusting the hours that an employee has actually worked to the nearest preset time increment — in the meal period context. The meal period provisions are designed to prevent even minor infringements on meal period requirements, and rounding is incompatible with that objective.”

Under California law, employers generally need to “provide employees with one 30-minute meal period that begins no later than the end of the fifth hour of work and another 30-minute meal period that begins no later than the end of the tenth hour of work. (Lab. Code, § 512, subd. (a); Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) wage order No. 4-2001, § 11(A) (Wage Order No.4).) If an employer does not provide an employee with a compliant meal period, then “the employer shall pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation for each workday that the meal . . . period is not provided.” (Lab. Code, § 226.7, subd. (c); Wage Order No. 4, § 11(B).)”

In one example, the court discussed a situation where AMN depended on the rounded time punches that was created by its time keeping system to determine if a meal period was short or delayed. Where a 23-minute lunch break was rounded to a 30-minute lunch break, AMN “would not have paid a premium wage for this lunch because it would have appeared as a full 30-minute meal period” in the time records.

The court discussed some very important policy considerations as to why strict compliance with the full 30-minute meal break is required. For example, because 30 minutes is a relatively short amount of time, every minute counts. “[E]ven relatively minor infringements on meal periods can cause substantial burdens to the employee. Forcing employees to work through their meal periods not only causes economic burdens in the form of extra work but also noneconomic burdens on the employees’ health, safety, and well-being.”

“Employees denied compliant meal periods ‘face greater risk of work-related accidents and increased stress’ and lose valuable time ‘free from employer control that is often needed to be able to accomplish important personal tasks.’ Shortening or delaying a meal period by even a few minutes may exacerbate risks associated with stress or fatigue, especially for workers who are on their feet most of the day or who perform manual labor or repetitive tasks.”

“Further, within a 30-minute timeframe, a few minutes can make a significant difference when it comes to eating an unhurried meal, scheduling a doctor’s appointment, giving instructions to a babysitter, refreshing oneself with a cup of coffee, or simply resting before going back to work.”

If you believe your meal breaks are being shortened or delayed without receiving premium pay, and you want to find out about your legal options, feel free to contact Nosratilaw, A Professional Law Corporation at 310-553-5630 for a free case evaluation. Our firm also handles meal break violations on a class action basis.

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