Employers have the burden to record and maintain accurate time records under California law. If the employer knows employees are not properly recording their time, the employer needs to enforce a policy to have employees accurately record their time, even if it requires disciplinary action. In addition, employers need to review their time records to ensure employees are following proper procedures.  Here are five reminders of best practices for time records for California:

1. Ensure the time records are accurate.

It goes without saying that the time records need to be accurate in the time that is being recorded for the employees.  For the employer, this means reviewing the use of electronic time keeping systems.  However, if an employer is relying upon the employee to record their time manually, or in a spreadsheet, these records must be audited to ensure that the employee is being accurate in the time they are recording.  For example, the employer needs to prevent an employee manually recording their start and stop time and the same time every day without any variations.  More information about electronic time records and storage requirements is available here.

2. Storing time records for the required amount of time.

The statute of limitations can reach back four years in wage and hour class actions under California law, and time records will be the primary evidence in most of these cases.  California law requires employers to track start and stop times for hourly, non-exempt employees, and record meal breaks as discussed below.  Employers need to ensure they are keeping these critical records for the amounts of time required under the law, and also long enough to defend against wage and hour claims.

3. Must record all required information.

Employers need to ensure their timekeeping system is recording the required information.  For example, while employers are not required to record 10-minute rest breaks, employers are required to record employee’s meal periods under the IWC Wage Orders (requirement is found section 7 – Records).

4. Maintaining time records in a usable format.

Maintaining records in a form that makes reviewing the records almost impossible is almost equivalent to not maintaining them in the first place. Some thought should be put into how an employer is storing time records and understanding how that data could efficiently be reviewed in the future if needed.  Electronic time records are easiest to analyze given that the data is digital.  However, employers should consider where the records are stored (electronic or paper), and how easy is it to pull information for individual employees, and for all employees, if needed.

5. Tracking employees’ signed waivers, acknowledgments, and time card adjustments.

Just like time records, employers need to consider a system for storing, indexing, and retrieving records related to the employee’s time records, such as any time adjustments, employee signed waivers (more information about meal break waivers is available here), and signed acknowledgments.  Documentation is critical but being able to track and retrieve documents for specific employees or for the workforce over a period of time is just as important.  Employers need to put just as much thought into this aspect as they do in training managers and supervisors to document issues in the first place.

The California supreme court provided further guidance on employer obligations to provide meal breaks as required under the Labor Code and applicable Wage Orders.  In Donohue v. AMN Services LLC, the California supreme court held that employers may not use time rounding policies in context of meal periods, and time records for meal periods that are incomplete or inaccurate raise a rebuttable presumption of meal period violations.  Here are five key takeaways from the opinion for California employers:

1. Reminder of meal break timing requirements

The California supreme court reiterated that, as it set forth in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court (2012), “employers must generally provide ‘a first meal period [of at least 30 minutes] no later than the end of an employee’s fifth hour of work, and a second meal period [of at least 30 minutes] no later than the end of an employee’s 10th hour of work.”  And that an employer “satisfies this obligation if it relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities and permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so. . . .  [¶]  . . . [T]he employer is not obligated to police meal breaks and ensure no work thereafter is performed.”

Under Brinker, “[t]here is no meal period violation if an employee voluntarily chooses to work during a meal period after the employer has relieved the employee of all duty.”

2. Time rounding for meal breaks is not permitted under California law

The California Court of Appeal held in See’s Candy Shops, Inc. v. Superior Court (2012) that employers may use time rounding policies to calculate regular and overtime wages “if the rounding policy is neutral on its face and as applied.”  The supreme court noted that it has “never decided the validity of the rounding standard” set forth in See’s Candy, but even assuming the holding is valid, such a rounding policy in regards to meal periods “does not comport with its neutrality standard.”  The supreme court explained that in context of regular and overtime wages, a rounding policy “averages out” and it is possible that employees are “fully compensated over a period of time.”

In contrast, when viewed in the meal break context, an employee’s 30-minute meal break could lose 9 minutes due to rounding, which amounts to nearly a third of the meal break.  If an employee is not provided a full 30-minute meal break because of rounding, there is no mechanism that makes up for the premium pay owed to the employee that would average out over time.  The supreme court held, “The precision of the time requirements set out in Labor Code section 512 and Wage Order No. 4 — “not less than 30 minutes” and ‘five hours per day’ or ‘ten hours per day’ — is at odds with the imprecise calculations that rounding involves.  The regulatory scheme that encompasses the meal period provisions is concerned with small amounts of time.”

3. Rebuttable presumption against employer if time records show meal period violations

The supreme court explained that if an employer’s “time records show missed, short, or delayed meal periods with no indication of proper compensation, then a rebuttable presumption arises.”  The court explained that a rebuttable presumption arises against the employer if “time records show missed, short, or delayed meal periods with no indication of proper compensation.”  The “proper compensation” referred to by the court is the premium pay of one hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay for each workday that the meal period is not provided.  The court explained that, “Employers can rebut the presumption by presenting evidence that employees were compensated for noncompliant meal period or that they had in fact been provided compliant meal periods during which they chose to work.”

What type of evidence could employers use to rebut this presumption?  The court explained that representative testimony, surveys and statistical analysis are some types of evidence that employers could present to rebut the presumption.  In addition, employee attestation forms that they received their meal breaks may also be evidence as explained below.

4. Potential use of employee acknowledgements confirming breaks were taken

The supreme court explained if an employer’s records do not show a compliant meal break was taken by the employee, it may be possible for the employer to use electronic attestations at the time an employee does not take a full meal break, a late meal break, or misses a break in order to ensure accurate tracking.

In Donohue, the employer’s timekeeping system provided a dropdown menu that prompted the employee to choose one of three options:

  1. “I was provided an opportunity to take a 30 min break before the end of my 5th hour of work but chose not to”;
  2. “I was provided an opportunity to take a 30 min break before the end of my 5th hour of work but chose to take a shorter/later break”;
  3. “I was not provided an opportunity to take a 30 min break before the end of my 5th hour of work.”

The employee was required to choose an option by the end of the pay period, and if the employee selected item #3, they were paid a premium wage for the missed break.  The supreme court explained that this procedure “would have ensured accurate tracking of meal period violations if it had simply omitted rounding.”

5. Potential use of biweekly certifications by employees that they received meal periods

The employer in Donohue also argued that its biweekly certifications signed by employees show there were no meal period violations.  The certification stated:

I was provided the opportunity to take all meal breaks to which I was entitled, or, if not, I have reported on this timesheet that I was not provided the opportunity to take all such meal breaks.

Because the employer used time rounding to record the meal periods, the plaintiff argued that these certifications were not valid as the employees were not on notice of potential violations.  In addition, plaintiff argued that the certification “should be discounted because employees had to sign them to get paid.”  The court did not rule on the effect that the certification would have in this case and left the issue to be addressed by the trial court on remand.  However, it does raise considerations for employers to review the use of certifications that can be used as evidence to rebut the presumption of any time records showing potential meal period violations.

Happy Friday.  Here is a refresher post for today’s Friday’s Five about some requirements about 10-minute rest breaks required for non-exempt employees:

1. Timing of rest breaks

The 10-minute rest break must be provided to employees who work over three and a half hours.  Employers must authorize and permit employees to take 10-minute rest breaks for every four hours worked, or “major fraction” thereof.  A “major fraction” of four hours is anytime more than two hours.  Insofar as practicable, the rest breaks should be in the middle of each four-hour work period.

2. Rest breaks must be paid and employees must be relieved of all duties

The rest period is considered time worked and must be paid.

Employees must be relieved of all duties during the rest break, and cannot be required to monitor a pager, phone, or other device during the rest break.  The Court in Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., ruled that “one cannot square the practice of compelling employees to remain at the ready, tethered by time and policy to particular locations or communications devices, with the requirement to relieve employees of all work duties and employer control during 10-minute rest periods.” The Court made clear that the employee must be “free from labor, work, or any other employment-related duties. And employees must not only be relieved of work duties, but also freed from employer control over how they spend their time.”  Further analysis on the Augustus case can be read here.

3. Rest breaks need to be “authorized and permitted”

Employers are required to “authorize and permit” rest breaks, and there is no affirmative duty for employers to require that employees take rest breaks.  Employers need to ensure that they do not interfere with an employee’s ability to take the rest break, and if the demands of work are such that employees cannot take the rest break, employers should have a system in place to compensate the employee the applicable “wage premium” of one hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay for any violations.

4. Rest breaks do not need to be recorded

Unlike the 30-minute meal break, the 10-minute rest break does not have to be recorded in the timekeeping system.

5. Piece rate employees must be paid separately for rest breaks

Employers who paid employees on a piece rate basis need to ensure they comply with Labor Code section 226.2, which took effect in January 2016.  Under Labor Code section 226.2, employers who paid employees on a piece rate basis must pay employees for “rest and recovery periods and other nonproductive time separate from any piece-rate compensation.”  The law requires employers to calculate the regular rate of pay for each workweek, and then pay the piece-rate employees the higher of this regular rate of pay or the applicable minimum wage for rest break time.  The law also requires employers to pay piece-rate employees for “nonproductive time” which is defined as “time under the employer’s control, exclusive of rest and recovery periods, that is not directly related to the activity being compensated on a piece-rate basis.”  The nonproductive time is required to be paid at a rate no less than the applicable minimum wage rate.  In addition, employers who pay employees on a piece-rate basis need to report the pay for rest breaks, recovery periods, and nonproductive time separately on the employees’ pay stubs.  Employers with piece rate employees should consult with experienced counsel to ensure the correct amounts of time are being calculated and paid for under this law.

In Rodriguez v. Taco Bell Corp., 896 F.3d 952 (9th Cir. 2018), an employee brought a putative class action alleging that Taco Bell’s discounted meal policy effectively denied employees the ability to take a duty free meal break.  At issue in this case was Taco Bell’s policy of offering a discounted meal from the restaurant during the employees’ meal breaks as long as the employees ate the meal on the company’s premises.  The ability to purchase discounted meals was voluntary.  The policy was implemented to prevent theft.  The employees argued that because they were required to remain on the company’s property in order to obtain the discounted meal they employees were not provided a duty free meal break.  The court rejected Plaintiff’s argument and held that Taco Bell’s policy complied with California law.  Here are five issues California employers should understand about the decision:

1. Meal and rest break requirements

The court in Rodriguez v. Taco Bell explained that California requires non-exempt employees be afforded rest breaks and meal periods after working a certain number of hours. See Cal. Labor Code §§ 226.7, 512.  At issue in this case is the Labor Code’s requirement that employees who work more than five hours in a day be afforded a meal period of “not less than 30 minutes” and employees who work more than ten hours in a day must be provided a second meal period of the same duration. Labor Code 512(a).  The court also noted that California Industrial Welfare Commission (“IWC”) Wage Order 5-2001 “requires employees be relieved of ‘all duty’ during the meal period. Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11050, subd. 11(A).”

The court also explained that if a meal or rest break is not provided according to California law, employees are entitled to the remedy of premium wages of “one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation for each workday that the meal or rest or recovery period is not provided.” Cal. Labor Code § 226.7(c).

2. Discounted meal policy did not establish control over employees

The court found that Taco Bell’s meal policy was compliant under California law because the company relieved the employees of all duty and relinquished control over their activities.  Taco Bell did not require its employees to purchase the discounted meal, there was no evidence that Taco Bell pressured its employees to purchase the discounted meals, employees were free to purchase meals and full price and leave the company premises.  In addition, there was no evidence to show that employees were required or pressured to work while on premises during the meal period.  In fact, Taco Bell had a policy prohibiting this, “as employees were required to take rest breaks and meal periods away from ‘[t]he food production area’ and ‘[t]he cash register service area.’”

3. Voluntary nature of the discounted meal policy was key issue in case

Plaintiff argued that employers must pay employees whenever they control the employees, even if the employee is not required to work, as set forth in Morillion v. Royal Packing Co., 22 Cal.4th 575 (2000). In Morillion, the employer required employees to travel to work on employer-provided buses, and the employees had no option to drive themselves.  There, the court held that employer’s work rules “prohibited employees from using their own transportation to get to and from the fields” where they worked, and therefore this time was considered work time and the employees had to be paid.  The court in Taco Bell also noted however that the Morillion court made it clear that if the employer provided optional transportation that the employee was not required to use, the travel time would not need to be compensated.  The court in Taco Bell explained that this scenario is more similar to Taco Bell’s voluntary discount meal program.

4. Employers must relieve employees of all duty during breaks

The court in Taco Bell did note that “an employer may so burden the use of employee’s break time that the employees must be considered ‘on duty.’”  The court explained:

In Augustus, the employees were required to carry a device so that the employer could reach the employee during the break if services were needed. Augustus, 211 Cal.Rptr.3d 634, 385 P.3d at 832. The California Supreme Court said that such an arrangement was “irreconcilable with employees’ retention of freedom to use rest periods for their own purposes.” Id. In Madera, the employees were not only on call, but were forbidden to conduct any personal business. See Madera, 204 Cal.Rptr. 422, 682 P.2d at 1089.

5. Remember to record meal breaks

Although not an issue in the case, the Wage Orders require that meal breaks taken by the employees must be recorded by the employer. See Wage Order No. 5 (7)(A)(3) (“Meal periods, split shifts intervals and total daily hours worked shall also be recorded.”).  The California Supreme Court held in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court that, “[i]f an employer’s records show no meal period for a given shift over five hours, a rebuttable presumption arises that the employee was not relieved of duty and no meal period was provided.”  Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, 53 Cal.4th 1004, 1053 (2012).

However, there is no similar requirement for employers to record 10-mintute rest breaks.

For more information about meal and rest breaks, see my prior article here.

It has been a few years that the California Supreme Court issued its groundbreaking ruling in Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior Court.  With the end of the year approaching and employers preparing for the new year and the new legal obligations that come with it, now is a good time for employers to audit meal and rest break policies and practices. Regular readers of the blog are familiar with these issues, but it is always a good practice to review these issues at least once a year and audit meal and rest break policies and practices.  This Friday’s Five covers five issues employers should not forget regarding about meal and rest breaks.

1. Timing of breaks.
Meal Breaks
The California Supreme Court made clear in Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior Court that employers need to give an employee their first meal break “no later than the end of an employee’s fifth hour of work, and a second meal period no later than the end of an employee’s 10th hour of work.” Here is a chart to illustrate the Court’s holding:

Rest Breaks
As for of rest breaks, the Court set forth that, “[e]mployees are entitled to 10 minutes’ rest for shifts from three and one-half to six hours in length, 20 minutes for shifts of more than six hours up to 10 hours, 30 minutes for shifts of more than 10 hours up to 14 hours, and so on.” This rule is set forth in this chart:

In regards to when rest breaks should be taken during the shift, the Court held that “the only constraint of timing is that rest breaks must fall in the middle of work periods ‘insofar as practicable.’” The Court stopped short of explaining what qualifies as “insofar as practicable”, and employers should closely analyze whether they may deviate from this general principle.

2. Rule regarding waiver of breaks.
Meal Breaks
Generally meal breaks can only be waived if the employee works less than six hours in a shift. However, as long as employers effectively allow an employee to take a full 30-minute meal break, the employee can voluntarily choose not to take the break and this would not result in a violation. The Supreme Court explained in Brinker (quoting the DLSE’s brief on the subject):

The employer that refuses to relinquish control over employees during an owed meal period violates the duty to provide the meal period and owes compensation [and premium pay] for hours worked. The employer that relinquishes control but nonetheless knows or has reason to know that the employee is performing work during the meal period, has not violated its meal period obligations [and owes no premium pay], but nonetheless owes regular compensation to its employees for time worked.

Rest Breaks
Rest breaks may also be waived by employees, as long as the employer properly authorizes and permits employees to take the full 10-minute rest break at the appropriate times.

3. Timekeeping requirements of meal breaks.
Meal breaks taken by the employees must be recorded by the employer. However, there is no requirement for employers to record 10-mintute rest breaks.

4. Implementing a procedure for employees to notify the company when they could not take a break.
If employers have the proper policy and practices set up for meal and rest breaks, the primary issue then becomes whether the employer knew or should have known that the employee was not taking the meal or rest breaks. Therefore, many allegations that the employer was not providing the required breaks can be defended on the basis that the employer had an effective complaint procedure in place to inform the employer of any potential violation, but failed to inform the employer of these violations.

5. Implementing a policy of paying employees for missed breaks and recording these payments.
Employers should show that in addition to the complaint procedure mentioned above, that the company has a system in place to correct any violations. If during an investigation, the employer confirms that the employee in fact missed the break because of the rush of business or some other factor, the company should pay the employee the one hour “premium pay” penalty at the employee’s regular rate of pay. Also, the company should record these payments made to employees in case it needs to prove later on that it has an effective remedial process in place to address missed breaks.

coffee breakCalifornia Labor Code section 226.7 provides that employees are entitled to receive premium wages in the form of one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay for a missed meal or rest break.

An employee who works more than three and one-half hours per day must be permitted to take a paid 10-minute rest period — during which the employee shall not be required “to work” — per every four hours of work or major fraction thereof.  An employee who works at least five hours must also be given a 30-minute unpaid meal break, during which the employee must be “relieved of all duty” if the meal period is not to be counted as time worked.

As the California Supreme Court recognized in Augustus v. ABM Security Services (2016), employers that cannot provide the required meal or rest breaks to employees have various options to comply with the law.  The Court stated:

Several options nonetheless remain available to employers who find it especially burdensome to relieve their employees of all duties during rest periods — including the duty to remain on call. Employers may (a) provide employees with another rest period to replace one that was interrupted, or (b) pay the premium pay set forth in Wage Order 4, subdivision 12(B) and section 226.7. (See Brinker, supra, 53 Cal.4th at p. 1039.)

As recognized by the Supreme Court, employers may consider voluntarily paying premium wages when it is questionable if an employee did not receive a compliant break or if they in fact missed the break.  Here are five issues employers should understand about the option of paying premium pay voluntarily1.

1. Employers potentially only owe two premium pay hours for each day worked.

The court in United Parcel Service, Inc. v. Superior Court (2011) concluded that the employer is liable up to two hours of premium wages – one hour for a missed meal break and one hour for a missed rest break – per day.  Even if the employee missed two rest breaks and one meal break in one day of work, the employee would only be entitled to one hour of premium pay for the missed rest breaks, and one hour of pay for the missed meal break, for a total of two hours of premium pay for that day.

2. Voluntarily making premium payments establishes that employer has effective open door policy.

By paying premium pay to employees who are not able to take breaks or complain that they have not been able to take breaks establishes that the company has an effective complaint procedure employees should utilize when any problems arise.  This presents an effective argument against any claims by employees after-the-fact that they were unable to take their breaks, and assert claims against the employer well after their employment ended.

3. Voluntary payment reduces potential liability.

The premium pay mentioned above is the penalty that is provided to the employee if they miss any of their required breaks.  Therefore, if the employer voluntarily pays the premium when the employee did not receive proper breaks, this will reduce the total potential liability owed to employees if sued.

4. Establishes that employer understands its legal obligations.

In making premium payments to employees who are arguably not able to take meal and or a rest break, establishes to any governmental agency or a plaintiff’s counsel that the company understands it obligations under the law and treats the obligations seriously.

5. If paid, it should be listed separately on employees’ paystubs to record payments.

It goes without saying that if the employer is taking this affirmative step, it needs to record the payments in a manner that makes it clear to the employee that the premium pay is being paid when breaks are missed.  In addition, the employer needs to have a record to establish all premium paid that could possibly be asserted by an employee has been paid out.

Friday is here already?  Today’s post is a review for many experienced operators in California, but surprisingly I’ve been getting a lot of questions about 10-minute rest breaks recently by a lot of employers.  So I thought I would have a refresher post for today’s Friday’s Five about some requirements about 10-minute rest breaks under California law:

1. Timing of rest breaks

The 10-minute rest break must be provided to employees who work over three and a half hours.  Employers must authorize and permit employees to take 10-minute rest breaks for every four hours worked, or “major fraction” thereof.  A “major fraction” of four hours is anytime more than two hours.  Insofar as practicable, the rest breaks should be in the middle of each four-hour work period.

2. Rest breaks must be paid

The rest period is considered time worked and must be paid.

3. Rest breaks need to be “authorized and permitted”

Employers are required to “authorize and permit” rest breaks, and there is no affirmative duty for employers to require that employees take rest breaks.  Employers need to ensure that they do not interfere with an employee’s ability to take the rest break, and if the demands of work are such that employees cannot take the rest break, employers should have a system in place to compensate the employee the applicable “wage premium” of one hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay for any violations.

4. Rest breaks do not need to be recorded

Unlike the 30-minute meal breaks, the 10-minute rest break does not have to be recorded in the timekeeping system.

5. Piece rate employees must be paid separately for rest breaks

Employers who paid employees on a piece rate basis need to ensure they comply with Labor Code section 226.2, which took effect in January 2016.  Under Labor Code section 226.2, employers who paid employees on a piece rate basis must pay employees for “rest and recovery periods and other nonproductive time separate from any piece-rate compensation.”  The law requires employers to calculate the regular rate of pay for each workweek, and then pay the piece-rate employees the higher of this regular rate of pay or the applicable minimum wage for rest break time.  The law also requires employers to pay piece-rate employees for “nonproductive time” which is defined as “time under the employer’s control, exclusive of rest and recovery periods, that is not directly related to the activity being compensated on a piece-rate basis.”  The nonproductive time is required to be paid at a rate no less than the applicable minimum wage rate.  In addition, employers who pay employees on a piece-rate basis need to report the pay for rest breaks, recovery periods, and nonproductive time separately on the employees’ pay stubs.  Employers with piece rate employees should consult with experienced counsel to ensure the correct amounts of time are being calculated and paid for under this law.

An appellate court upheld a trial court’s denial of class certification in a case brought against Walgreens. The appellate court’s decision provides a few good lessons for employers defending class action allegations.

1. Meal break cases are harder to certify as class actions after the Brinker decision.
The California Supreme Court held in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court that employers had to make meal breaks available to employees, and had no obligation to ensure that employees took the meal break. The court in Walgreens acknowledged this, and explained by the make available standard set forth in Brinker makes it hard to certify meal break claims as a class action:

One important difference between the make available standard and the ensure standard has to do with ease of proof. The ensure standard can make it easier for plaintiffs to prove employer meal break violations, while the make available standard can make it harder. Here is why. Employers generally require employees to record hours worked by clocking in and clocking out, a process that typically generates centralized and computerized time records. It is simple to use computer records to determine if each employee checked out on time for a full 30-minute meal break. Meal break classes thus are relatively easy to certify under the ensure test: each missed break automatically equals an employer violation. Meal break classes are harder to certify under a make available test because the fact of a missed break does not dictate the conclusion of a violation (and thus employer liability). Rather, under the make available standard you additionally must ask why the worker missed the break before you can determine whether the employer is liable. If the worker was free to take the break and simply chose to skip or delay it, there is no violation and no employer liability. This make available test thus can make analysis of break violations more complex than under the ensure standard.

2. There is not a presumption against the employer if the employer’s records show no meal period was taken.
Plaintiff argued that because Walgreens’s records did not show that meal breaks were being taken, or taken on a timely basis, that there was a rebuttable presumption created against Walgreens that the breaks had not been taken. Plaintiff argued that Justice Werdegar’s concurring opinion in Brinker supported this analysis. However, in this case, the court did not find this was binding analysis, as a majority of the justices did not agree with this rebuttable presumption and because “concurring opinions are not binding precedent.”

3. After Brinker, an expert witness’ job becomes much more difficult.
The plaintiff utilized an expert witness in the case to attempt to prove that the case was suitable for class certification. However, Plaintiff’s expert witness “incorrectly assumed there was a Labor Code violation every time a worker did not take a timely break. [The expert] thus incorrectly assumed Walgreens must ensure employees took their breaks. This assumption is legally unsound under Brinker’s holding….”

4. It is a good idea to test the truthfulness of the declarations submitted by Plaintiff’s counsel of current or former employees.
In this case, it does not appear that the employees made up facts about their breaks, but instead the plaintiff’s counsel took some liberties with the facts. Usually, plaintiff’s counsel will submit written declarations from current and former employees to support their theories for class certification.  In this case, it appears that the declarations were all very similar, and when the employees who signed the declarations were deposed by the defendant, the employees recanted their declarations and stated that the declaration drafted by plaintiff’s counsel included statements that they never made during the interview by plaintiff’s counsel.  The appellate court noted:

The trial judge repeatedly said these declarations “appalled” him, and he told [plaintiff’s] counsel, “You know better.”
The trial court was “especially troubled” that, once deposed, so many witnesses recanted their declarations.
Form declarations present a problem. When witnesses speak exactly the same words, one wonders who put those words there, and how accurate and reliable those words are.
There is nothing attractive about submitting form declarations contrary to the witnesses’ actual testimony. This practice corrupts the pursuit of truth.
It was not error for the trial court to give these unreliable declarations no weight.

Defendants should take the opportunity to depose the individuals who submitted declarations drafted by plaintiff’s counsel.  You never know what may turn up. 

5. Emails and other documentation reminding managers to provide meal breaks will help the company’s defense against class certification.

In the Walgreens case, plaintiff counsel argued that the following email (and apparently similar emails) by Walgreens to its managers established meal break violations:

Just an FYI . . . if anyone is on this list, they did not receive a lunch. Please, you must talk to the assistant managers and find out why. . . . please make a big deal about this . . . remind employees that it is their job to ask for a break or lunch if they did not receive it, but also remind the Managers on duty that they must have a break schedule created for every shift . . . there is no negotiation about this . . . there is no excuse not to give a break or lunch . . . look at your schedule and make sure you have the right people at the right time. Two of the people received a lunch, but it was after the 5 hour mark and both did not take a 30 minute lunch. Please. . . Please address in every store. . . . This is one day in the district . . . but this is occur[r]ing in every store! Thank you for your complete follow through on this. If you have any questions, please let me know. I will be sending out some guidelines to help you succeed on making sure everyone gets a 30 minute break within 5 hours of their shift. Thank you.

Contrary to plaintiff’s argument however, the court found that this email instead showed Walgreens’s efforts to provide its employees with meal breaks. The emails showed the company pressuring store managers to ensure that employees took meal breaks. Takeaway for employers: document the emphasis on the company’s actions to make meal breaks available for employees and routinely remind managers of the obligations to make breaks available.

The decision, In re Walgreen Co. Overtime Cases and be read here

Back to some basics with this Friday’s Five. This post revisits some meal and rest break requirements. It has been a couple of years since the California Supreme Court issued it groundbreaking ruling in Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior Court, and it is a good time for employers to audit these policies and practices. Here are five things employers should not forget regarding about meal and rest breaks.

1. Timing of breaks.
Meal Breaks
The California Supreme Court made clear in Brinker Restaurant Group v. Superior Court that employers need to give an employee their first meal break “no later than the end of an employee’s fifth hour of work, and a second meal period no later than the end of an employee’s 10th hour of work.” Here is a chart to illustrate the Court’s holding:

 

Rest Breaks
As for of rest breaks, the Court set forth that, “[e]mployees are entitled to 10 minutes’ rest for shifts from three and one-half to six hours in length, 20 minutes for shifts of more than six hours up to 10 hours, 30 minutes for shifts of more than 10 hours up to 14 hours, and so on.” This rule is set forth in this chart:

 

In regards to when rest breaks should be taken during the shift, the Court held that “the only constraint of timing is that rest breaks must fall in the middle of work periods ‘insofar as practicable.’” The Court stopped short of explaining what qualifies as “insofar as practicable”, and employers should closely analyze whether they may deviate from this general principle.

2. Rule regarding waiver of breaks.
Meal Breaks
Generally meal breaks can only be waived if the employee works less than six hours in a shift. However, as long as employers effectively allow an employee to take a full 30-minute meal break, the employee can voluntarily choose not to take the break and this would not result in a violation. The Supreme Court explained in Brinker (quoting the DLSE’s brief on the subject):
The employer that refuses to relinquish control over employees during an owed meal period violates the duty to provide the meal period and owes compensation [and premium pay] for hours worked. The employer that relinquishes control but nonetheless knows or has reason to know that the employee is performing work during the meal period, has not violated its meal period obligations [and owes no premium pay], but nonetheless owes regular compensation to its employees for time worked.
Rest Breaks
Rest breaks may also be waived by employees, as long as the employer properly authorizes and permits employees to take the full 10-minute rest break at the appropriate times.

3. Timekeeping requirements of meal breaks.
Meal breaks taken by the employees must be recorded by the employer. However, there is no requirement for employers to record 10-mintute rest breaks.

4. Implementing a procedure for employees to notify the company when they could not take a break.
If employers have the proper policy and practices set up for meal and rest breaks, the primary issue then becomes whether the employer knew or should have known that the employee was not taking the meal or rest breaks. Therefore, many allegations that the employer was not providing the required breaks can be defended on the basis that the employer had an effective complaint procedure in place to inform the employer of any potential violation, but failed to inform the employer of these violations.

5. Implementing a policy of paying employees for missed breaks and recording these payments.
Employers should show that in addition to the complaint procedure mentioned above, that the company has a system in place to correct any violations. If during an investigation, the employer confirms that the employee in fact missed the break because of the rush of business or some other factor, the company should pay the employee the one hour “premium pay” penalty at the employee’s regular rate of pay. Also, the company should record these payments made to employees in case it needs to prove later on that it has an effective remedial process in place to address missed breaks.

While California employers anxiously wait for the California Supreme Court’s opinion in Brinker v. Superior Court (Hohnbaum) (and also Brinkley v. Public Storage, Inc.), what steps should they in regards to meal and rest break policies?

Record meal breaks.

This is already an obligation of California employers, and the Brinker decision does not change this obligation. Failure to do so creates a negative inference against the employer during litigation.

Employers should continue to have a strict written policy on providing meal and rest breaks.

Brinker’s policies, which were found to be valid by the appellate court, are a good example of policies California employers should have in place. For example, Brinker had a written policy titled “Break and Meal Period Policy for Employees in the State of California.” Brinker also required its employees to sign a form stating “I am entitled to a 30-minute meal period when I work a shift that is over five hours” and that “If I work over 3.5 hours during my shift, I understand that I am eligible for one [10-]minute rest break for each four hours that I work.” Brinker’s policy also stated that an employee’s failure to abide by the policy could result in termination. The court held that this ultimately was sufficient under California law to “provide” meal and rest breaks, only if the defendant has taken steps to establish and communicate the policy. Then if an employee fails to take a meal or rest break voluntarily, the employer is not liable for damages.

Continue to monitor that employees are actually taking meal breaks.

A good example of what not to do was shown by the defendant in Cicairos v. Summit Logistics, Inc. (2005) 133 Cal.App.4th 949. There, the defendant, a trucking company, had computerized systems on each truck that allowed it to track the driver’s location, speed, starts and stops, and time. The drivers had to input factors that the computers could not monitor independently, such as road conditions and traffic. The court held that by requiring its drivers to keep track of these factors, the defendant trucking company regulated the drivers’ activity, but failed to schedule meal breaks, did not include an activity code for meal breaks that would be an acceptable delay for deliveries. The company also did not monitor compliance. The court also noted that:

[W]here the employer has failed to keep records required by statute, the consequences for such failure should fall on the employer, not the employee. In such a situation, imprecise evidence by the employee can provide a sufficient basis for damages.

(citing Hernandez v. Mendoza (1988) 199 Cal.App.3d 721, 727). As a result of Cicairos’ failures, “most drivers at their meals while driving or skipped a meal nearly every working day” and the pressure from management made drivers feel that they should not stop for lunch. The court held that these facts negated defendant’s argument that the meal breaks were provided.

Make sure management knows about and enforces these rules.

Employers should have discussions with their front-line managers about meal and rest breaks to ensure that the policy is being effectively administrated.

Policies should require employees to come forward to report if they have been forced to work through a meal break.

This would help to some degree when the employees claim that they were forced to work through their meal and rest breaks.