• Back to the Drawing Board -- California's Existing Meal Break Rules Remain In Place
  • January 20, 2006 | Author: Helene J. Wasserman
  • Law Firm: Ford & Harrison LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • California employers who were hoping for some relief from the existing, onerous regulations governing employee meal breaks will have to wait. The January 14, 2006, deadline for acting on the proposed regulations has come and gone, with no action. If there are to be any revisions to the existing regulations, the process will need to start all over again.

    In California, all employees who work more than five hours must be provided a 30-minute, uninterrupted meal break. The meal break must begin before the start of the fifth hour of work. In December 2004, Governor Schwarzenegger proposed "emergency" legislation providing employers with relief from this requirement, and allowing employers and employees to agree to the terms of the employees' meal period. These regulations were proposed, in part, due to the significant number of class action lawsuits that have plagued California employers.

    That "emergency" legislation was withdrawn, and actual regulations were proposed on January 14, 2005. Numerous hearings were held throughout the state, and the proposed regulations were amended a few times. The deadline for the regulations to be acted upon was January 14, 2006. Because that deadline passed without any action being taken by Governor Schwarzenegger, the proposed regulations "die on the vine," and new regulations will need to be proposed before the meal period requirement can be changed.

    Bottom Line for Employers:

    Unfortunately, this is not the result for which we were hoping. California wage and hour law remains one of the most difficult areas of employment law for employers to navigate. California wage and hour law differs significantly from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and from the wage and hour laws of other states. While the issues may seem small, the ramifications associated with making mistakes are significant. California juries have awarded significant sums to employees claiming to have been denied meal and/or rest breaks. Many employers are required to pay penalties to former employees solely for failure to pay an employee terminal pay on time or to pay the employee for accrued, but unused, vacation. Frequently, the penalties assessed are several times the actual amount of money owed to the employee.

    Any employer with employees in California should be certain that their wage and hour practices, which may comply with the FLSA and with the laws of other states, comply with California wage and hour law.