Brinker Restaurant Corporation v Superior Court (Hohnbaum)

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.

In Muldrow v. Surrex Solutions Corp., the California Court of Appeal upheld a trial court’s determination that the plaintiffs could not maintain a class action for proposed meal period class given the holding by the California Supreme Court in Brinker v. Superior Court (click here for additional information on the Brinker ruling). The appellate court had previously upheld the trial court’s denial of class certification, but the California Supreme Court granted review of the case pending its decision in Brinker. Once Brinker was decided, the Supreme Court transferred the case back to the appellate court for a decision applying the new analysis set forth in Brinker.

In Muldrow, the appellate court found that the trial court properly denied class certification for the meal break class.  It stated, “In Brinker, the Supreme Court held that an employer need only provide for meal periods, and need not ensure that employees take such breaks.”

In support of its conclusion that the trial court properly denied class certification as to the meal break claims, the court quoted the following language from the Brinker decision:

An employer’s duty with respect to meal breaks…is an obligation to provide a meal period to its employees. The 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.

Plaintiffs argued that they should now be able to present evidence that the employees were “discouraged” from taking meal breaks given the Brinker decision. The appellate court rejected this request as this was the first time plaintiffs raised the issue, and there were a number of cases that plaintiffs could have relied upon for this theory prior to the Brinker decision.

Have you attended webinars and read new legal updates on the new Brinker decision and still uncertain on how this applies to your company? Realizing that employers need to take a more active step in ensuring they are in compliance with the new decision, I’ve developed a package that actually assists employers in drafting and implementing a meal and rest break policy tailored to their business:

  • A draft of meal and rest break policy to comply with the standards set forth in Brinker.
  • Video presentation covering overview of Brinker (1 hour) and presentation materials.
  • 1/2 hour consultation for implementing meal and rest break policy tailored to your company.

The California Supreme Court made it clear in its decision that different industries and facts will either prohibit or permit employers from requiring different standards regarding the timing and offering of meal and rest breaks under California law.  General advice from webinars and articles are not sufficient to ensure companies are in compliance with the clarifications set forth in the decision.    The cost of the package is a flat fee of $450. 

More information about the compliance package is listed here

It has been a week now since the California Supreme Court issued its decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court. I’ve been getting a lot of questions, and have spoken on the topic a few times, and thought a couple of charts illustrating the Court’s holding would assist in understanding the decision. For a more general discussion of the Brinker decision, please see my previous article.

 

Meal Periods

The California Supreme Court made clear in Brinker 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.” The Court said that contrary to Plaintiff’s argument, there are no additional timing requirements for the meal breaks.

I’ve created this chart to help illustrate this point:

 

If an employee begins work at 8:00 a.m., the employee must start his break by 12:59, which is before the end of the 5th hour of work.

Another issue in the case was Brinker’s policy of “early lunching.” Early lunching is when employers allow the employees to take their meal break within the first hour or two of arriving for work. Once the employee is given this first meal period, then they would continue to work for six, seven, eight, or more hours without an additional meal break. The Court rejected Plaintiff’s argument that this policy violated the law. The Plaintiff argued that the law required employers had a duty to provide meal breaks on a “rolling five” hour basis, or every five hours.

Here is a chart that provides an example of an early lunching practice:

 

Before employers begin to employ an early lunching policy, they should do so with caution and some guidance. As Court cautioned employers that: “in the context of an eight-hour shift, ‘[a]s

a general matter,’ one rest break should fall on either side of the meal break. Shorter or longer shifts and other factors that render such scheduling impracticable may alter this general rule.”

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.” The Court’s holding can be summarized as follows:

 

In regards to when during the shift rest breaks should be taken, 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.

Be among the first in California to understand the complete impact the monumental decision in Brinker v. Superior Court will have on employers. The Court’s decision is expected on April 12, and Anthony Zaller and Daniel Turner will analyze and discuss the impact of the decision. The webinar will explain the decision and what it means for employers and wage and hour class actions, discussing among other items:

  • Can meal periods be offered to employees, or do they need to be ensured?
  • When during the shift can meal and rest periods be taken?
  • What does the Court’s ruling mean for the status of meal and rest break class actions and class certification issues?
  • What is the impact for cases currently being litigated?

The cost is $150 per connection. 

Date: Wednesday, April 18
Time: 10:00 a.m. PST

Click here to register.  Existing clients can email us here to have the fee waived. 

 

Governor Brown signed a number of new employment laws that take effect in January 2012.  During this webinar, we will cover the new obligations facing employers under these recently enacted employment laws as well as the proper steps employers should take to comply with them.  The discussion will also cover the recent oral argument in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court and what steps employers should take while waiting for the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Other topics will include:

  • New laws effective January 2012, including:
    • Statute increasing the penalties for employers who misclassify independent contractors
    • What the Wage Theft Protection Act of 2011 means for employers
    • Gender identity and expression
    • Prohibiting e-verify requirements under the Employment Acceleration Act of 2011.
    • New requirement to provide health benefits during pregnancy disability leave
  • Review of new developments that took place in 2011:
    • Development of case law upholding class action waivers in arbitration agreements
    • Payment requirements for non-resident employees working in California

The cost is $150 per connection (no fee for existing clients).  Click here for more information and to register. 

 

The Fourth Appellate District, Division One, Appellate Court’s opinion in Brinker Restaurant Corporation, et al. v. Hohnbaum, et al. (July 22, 2008) is the opinion that was appealed to the California Supreme Court. The case is one of the first California state appellate court to rule on the parameters of employers’ duties under the California Labor Code requiring rest and meal breaks for hourly employees.  As discussed below, the court’s opinion was across the board in favor for California employers.  The primarily holding by the appellate court was that an employer does not have to “ensure” that meal and rest breaks are taken, therefore making these types of cases very difficult to certify as a class action. 

Due to the monumental impact this case will have on the vast wage and hour litigation in California, this post is longer than we typically like to write.

Case Background

In November 2005 Brinker filed its first petition for writ of mandate (D047509) in this matter. In the petition, Brinker challenged the court’s July 2005 meal period order. Specifically, Brinker requested a writ directing the trial court to "vacate its earlier order holding that: (1) a non-exempt employee is entitled to a meal period for each five-hour block of time worked[; and] (2) the premium pay owed for a violation of [section 226.7] is a wage."

In support of its petition, Brinker argued the trial court erred by interpreting section 512 to mean that an hourly employee’s entitlement to a meal period is "rolling," such that "a separate meal period must be provided for each five-hour block of time worked . . . regardless of the total hours worked in the day. In other words, the [court] interpreted the law to be that . . . [o]nce a meal period concludes, the proverbial clock starts ticking again, and if the employee works five hours more, a second meal period must be provided." 

Brinker also argued that although an employee working more than five hours and less than 10 hours is entitled under section 512 to a 30-minute meal period at some point during the workday, "nothing in [s]ection 512 . . . requires a second meal period be provided solely because [the] employee works five hours after the end of the first meal period, where the total time worked is less than [10] hours." Brinker further asserted that IWC Wage Order No. 5 also "does not dictate the anomalous result that meal periods must be provided every five hours" because, like section 512, it requires only that an employee working more than five hours "gets a meal period at some point during the workday." Brinker complained that the court’s meal period ruling "requires servers to sit down, unpaid, during the most lucrative part of their working day."

Plaintiff’s Motion For Class Certification

Plaintiffs moved to certify a class of "[a]ll present and former employees of [Brinker] who worked at a Brinker[-]owned restaurant in California, holding a non-exempt position, from and after August 16, 2000 (‘Class Members’)." In their moving papers, plaintiffs alternatively defined the class as "all hourly employees of restaurants owned by [Brinker] in California who have not been provided with meal and rest breaks in accordance with California law and who have not been compensated for those missed meal and rest breaks." 

Plaintiffs’ motion also sought certification of six subclasses, three of which are pertinent to the appeal: (1) a "Rest Period Subclass," consisting of "Class Members who worked one or more work periods in excess of three and a half (3.5) hours without receiving a paid 10 minute break during which the Class Member was relieved of all duties, from and after October 1, 2000"; (2) a "Meal Period Subclass," consisting of "Class Members who worked one or more work periods in excess of five (5) consecutive hours, without receiving a thirty (30) minute meal period during which the Class Member was relieved of all duties, from and after October 1, 2000"; and (3) an "Off-The-Clock Subclass," consisting of "Class Members who worked ‘off-the-clock’ or without pay from and after August 16, 2000."

The class in question is estimated to consist of more than 59,000 Brinker employees.

Plaintiffs Rest Break Claims

Plaintiffs allege Brinker willfully violated section 226.7 and IWC Wage Orders Nos. 5-1998, 5-2000 and 5-2001 by "fail[ing] to provide rest periods for every four hours or major fraction thereof worked per day to non-exempt employees, and failing to provide compensation for such unprovided rest periods." Section 226.7, subdivision (a) provides: "No employer shall require any employee to work during any meal or rest period mandated by an applicable order of the [IWC]." (Italics added.) 

The pertinent provisions of IWC Wage Order No. 5-2001 are codified in California Code of Regulations, title 8, section 11050, subdivision 12(A), which provides:

Every employer shall authorize and permit all employees to take rest periods, which insofar as practicable shall be in the middle of each work period. The authorized rest period time shall be based on the total hours worked daily at the rate of ten (10) minutes net rest time per four (4) hours or major fraction thereof. However, a rest period need not be authorized for employees whose total daily work time is less than three and one-half (3 1/2) hours. Authorized rest period time shall be counted as hours worked for which there shall be no deduction from wages. (Italics added.)

The court held that the phrase "per four (4) hours or major fraction thereof" does not mean that a rest period must be given every three and one-half hours:

Regulation 11050(12)(A) states that calculation of the appropriate number of rest breaks must "be based on the total hours worked daily." Thus, for example, if one has a work period of seven hours, the employee is entitled to a rest period after four hours of work because he or she has worked a full four hours, not a "major fraction thereof." It is only when an employee is scheduled for a shift that is more than three and one-half hours, but less than four hours, that he or she is entitled to a rest break before the four hour mark. 

Moreover, because the sentence following the "four (4) hours or major fraction thereof" limits required rest breaks to employees who work at least three and one-half hours in one work day, the term "major fraction thereof" can only be interpreted as meaning the time period between three and one-half hours and four hours. Apparently this portion of the wage order was intended to prevent employers from avoiding rest breaks by scheduling work periods slightly less that [sic] four hours, but at the same time made three and one-half hours the cut-off period for work periods below which no rest period need be provided. 

The court also held that the DLSE’s opinion that the term "major fraction thereof" means any time over 50 percent of a four-hour work period is wrong because it renders the current version of Regulation 11050(12)(A) internally inconsistent. As an employee cannot be entitled to a 10-minute break if she or she "works more than 2 . . . hours in a day," if the employee is not entitled to a 10-minute break if he or she works "less than three and one-half" hours in a day. The court also noted that it is not required to follow the DLSE opinion on the matter, citing Murphy v. Kenneth Cole, 40 Cal.4th at p. 1105, fn. 7.

The court also held that the law does not required employers to provide rest breaks before meal breaks:

Furthermore, contrary to plaintiffs’ assertion, the provisions of Regulation 11050(12)(A)do not require employers to authorize and permit a first rest break before the first scheduled meal period. Rather, the applicable language of Regulation 11050(12)(A)states only that rest breaks "insofar as practicable shall be in the middle of each work period." (Italics added.) Regulation 11050(12)(A)is silent on the question of whether an employer must permit an hourly employee to take a 10-minute rest break before the first meal period is provided. As Brinker points out, an employee who takes a meal period one hour into an eight-hour shift could still take a post-meal period rest break "in the middle" of the first four-hour work period, in full compliance with the applicable provisions of IWC Wage Order No. 5-2001.

The court explained that Regulation 11050(12)(A) allows employers some “discretion to not have rest periods in the middle of a work period if, because of the nature of the work or the circumstances of a particular employee, it is not ‘practicable.’” In explaining what “practicable” means, the court specifically mentioned that:

…this discretion is of particular importance for jobs, such as in the restaurant industry, that require flexibility in scheduling breaks because the middle of a work period is often during a mealtime rush, when an employee might not want to take a rest break in order to maximize tips and provide optimum service to restaurant patrons. As long as employers make rest breaks available to employees, and strive, where practicable, to schedule them in the middle of the first four-hour work period, employers are in compliance with that portion of Regulation 11050(12)(A). 

Ultimately, the court held that a determination about whether it is practicable to permit rest breaks near the end of a four hour work period is not an issue that can be litigated on a class-wide basis. In overruling the trial court’s granting of class certification the Appellate Court stated:

Had the court properly determined that (1) employees need be afforded only one 10-minute rest break every four hours "or major fraction thereof" (Reg. 11050(12)(A)), (2) rest breaks need be afforded in the middle of that four-hour period only when "practicable," and (3) employers are not required to ensure that employees take the rest breaks properly provided to them in accordance with the provisions of IWC Wage Order No. 5, only individual questions would have remained, and the court in the proper exercise of its legal discretion would have denied class certification with respect to plaintiffs’ rest break claims because the trier of fact cannot determine on a class-wide basis whether members of the proposed class of Brinker employees missed rest breaks as a result of a supervisor’s coercion or the employee’s uncoerced choice to waive such breaks and continue working. Individual questions would also predominate as to whether employees received a full 10-minute rest period, or whether the period was interrupted. The issue of whether rest periods are prohibited or voluntarily declined is by its nature an individual inquiry.

Plaintiffs argued that even if the trial court erred in failing to define the elements of plaintiffs’ rest period claims prior to certifying the class the appellate court should remand the case to the trial court to permit the trial court to rule on if plaintiffs’ "expert statistical and survey evidence" makes their rest break claims amenable to class treatment. The appellate court refused to remand the case, stating that while courts may use such evidence in determining if a claim is amenable to class treatment, here, that evidence does not change the individualized inquiry in determining if Brinker allowed or forbade rest periods. The court stated:

The question of whether employees were forced to forgo rest breaks or voluntarily chose not to take them is a highly individualized inquiry that would result in thousands of mini-trials to determine as to each employee if a particular manager prohibited a full, timely break or if the employee waived it or voluntarily cut it short. (Brown v. Federal Express Corp. (C.D.Cal. 2008) ___ F.R.D. ___ [2008 WL 906517 at *8] (Brown) [meal period violations claim not amenable to class treatment as court would be "mired in over 5000 mini-trials" to determine if such breaks were provided].)

For these reasons, the appellate court vacated the order granting class certification for the rest break subclass. 

Plaintiffs’ Meal Break Claims

In their second cause of action, plaintiffs allege Brinker violated sections 226.7 and 512, and IWC Wage Order No. 5, by failing to "provide meal periods for days on which non-exempt employees work(ed) in excess of five hours, or by failing to provide meal periods [altogether], or to provide second meal periods for days employees worked in excess of [10] hours, and failing to provide compensation for such unprovided or improperly provided meal periods." Plaintiffs claim that Brinker’s “early lunching” policy that required its employees to take their meal periods soon after they arrive for their shifts, usually within the first hour, and then requiring them to work in excess of five hours, and sometimes more than nine hours straight, without an additional meal period violated California law. 

Plaintiffs asserted that common issues predominate on their rest break claims because they "presented corporate policy evidence of a pattern and practice by Brinker of failing to provide a rest period prior to employees’ meal period as a result of its practice of scheduling meals early." Specifically, plaintiffs argued that "Brinker maintains company-wide policies discouraging rest periods, including requiring servers to give up tables and tips if they want a break and failing to provide rest periods prior to scheduled early meals."

1. Rolling five-hour meal period claim

The lower trial court in this case, found that a meal period "must be given before [an] employee’s work period exceeds five hours." The lower court also stated that "the DLSE wants employers to provide employees with break periods and meal periods toward the middle of an employee[]s work period in order to break up that employee’s ‘shift.’" The court further stated that Brinker "appears to be in violation of [section] 512 by not providing a ‘meal period’ per every five hours of work."

In overruling the lower court, the appellate court ruled that this interpretation of the law was incorrect and that the trial court’s class certification order rests on improper criteria with respect to the plaintiffs’ rolling five-hour meal period claim.

The appellate court began its analysis with Labor Code Section 512, subdivision (a), which provides:

An employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with a meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that if the total work period per day of the employee is no more than six hours, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee. An employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than 10 hours per day without providing the employee with a second meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that if the total hours worked is no more than 12 hours, the second meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and the employee only if the first meal period was not waived.

The appellate court held that Section 512(a) thus provides that an employer in California has a statutory duty to make a first 30-minute meal period available to an hourly employee who is permitted to work more than five hours per day, unless (1) the employee is permitted to work a "total work period per day" that is six hours or less, and (2) both the employee and the employer agree by "mutual consent" to waive the meal period.

The appellate court also held that this interpretation of section 512(a), regarding an employer’s duty to provide a first meal period, is consistent with the plain language set forth in IWC Wage Order No. 5-2001, which provides in part: "No employer shall employ any person for a work period of more than five (5) hours without a meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that when a work period of not more than six (6) hours will complete the day’s work the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and the employee."

On the issue regarding when an meal break must be provided the court stated:

With respect to the issue of when an employer must make a first 30-minute meal period available to an hourly employee, Brinker’s uniform meal period policy (titled "Break and Meal Period Policy for Employees in the State of California") comports with the foregoing interpretation of section 512(a) and IWC Wage Order No. 5-2001. It provides that employees are "entitled to a 30-minute meal period" when they "work a shift that is over five hours." 

The court continued in holding that Section 512(a) also provides that an employer has a duty to make a second 30-minute meal period available to an hourly employee who has a "work period of more than 10 hours per day" unless (1) the "total hours" the employee is permitted to work per day is 12 hours or less, (2) both the employee and the employer agree by "mutual consent" to waive the second meal period, and (3) the first meal period "was not waived."

Plaintiffs argue that Brinker’s written meal policy violates section 512(a) and IWC Wage Order No. 5 (specifically, Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11050, subd. 11(A)) because it allows the practice of “early lunching” and fails to make a 30-minute meal period available to an hourly employee for every five consecutive hours of work. Plaintiffs maintained that every hourly employee should receive a second meal break five hours after they return from the first meal break. The court found this argument unpersuasive:

Under this interpretation, however, the term "per day" in the first sentence of section 512(a) would be rendered surplusage, as would the phrase "[a]n employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than 10 hours per day without providing the employee with a second meal period of not less than 30 minutes" in the second sentence of that subdivision.

The appellate court held that without a proper interpretation of section 512(a), the lower court could not correctly ascertain the legal elements that members of the proposed class would have to prove in order to establish their meal period claims, and therefore could not properly determine whether common issues predominate over issues that affect individual members of the class.

2. Brinker’s failure to ensure employees take meal periods

Plaintiffs also claim that Brinker’s uniform meal period policy violates sections 512 and 226.7, as well as IWC Wage Order No. 5, by failing to ensure that its hourly employees take their meal periods. In the primary holding of the case, the appellate court stated:

We conclude that California law provides that Brinker need only provide meal periods, and, as a result, as with the rest period claims, plaintiffs’ meal period claims are not amenable to class treatment.

The appellate court disagreed with Plaintiffs’ contention that an employer’s duty was to ensure a meal break. The court stated:

If this were the case, employers would be forced to police their employees and force them to take meal breaks. With thousands of employees working multiple shifts, this would be an impossible task. If they were unable to do so, employers would have to pay an extra hour of pay any time an employee voluntarily chose not to take a meal period, or to take a shortened one. 

3. Amenability of plaintiffs’ meal break claims to class treatment

The appellate court held that because meal breaks need only be made available, not ensured, individual issues predominate in this case and the meal break claim is not amenable class treatment. The court explained:

The reason meal breaks were not taken can only be decided on a case-by-case basis. It would need to be determined as to each employee whether a missed or shortened meal period was the result of an employee’s personal choice, a manager’s coercion, or, as plaintiffs argue, because the restaurants were so inadequately staffed that employees could not actually take permitted meal breaks. As we discussed, ante, with regard to rest breaks, plaintiffs’ computer and statistical evidence submitted in support of their class certification motion was not only based upon faulty legal assumptions, it also could only show the fact that meal breaks were not taken, or were shortened, not why. It will require an individual inquiry as to all Brinker employees to determine if this was because Brinker failed to make them available, or employees chose not to take them.

The appellate court also found that the evidence does not show that Brinker had a class-wide policy that prohibited meal breaks. Instead, the evidence in this case indicated that some employees took meal breaks and others did not, and it requires the court to perform an individualized inquiring into the reasons why an employee did not take the break. The court also held that the plaintiffs’ statistical and survey evidence does not render the meal break claims one in which common issues predominate because while the time cards might show when meal breaks were taken and when there were not, they cannot show why they were or were not taken.

Plaintiffs’ Off-the clock claim

Plaintiffs also allege Brinker unlawfully required its employees to work off the clock during meal periods. This claim was comprised of two theories: (1) time worked during a meal period when an individual was clocked out; and (2) time “shaving,” which is defined as an unlawful alteration of an employee’s time record to reduce the time logged so as to not accurately reflect time worked.

The court held, and the Plaintiffs did not dispute, that employers can only be held liable for off-the-clock claims if the employer knows or should have known the employee was working off the clock. (citing Morillion v. Royal Packing Co., 22 Cal.4th at p. 585.) The evidence also established that Brinker has a written corporate policy prohibiting off-the-clock work. Because of these facts, the court found that plaintiffs’ off-the-clock claims are not amenable to class treatment. As the court stated:

Thus, resolution of these claims would require individual inquiries in to whether any employee actually worked off the clock, whether managers had actual or constructive knowledge of such work and whether managers coerced or encouraged such work. Indeed, not all the employee declarations alleged they were forced to work off the clock, demonstrating there was no class-wide policy forcing employees to do so.