In the most eagerly anticipated California employment law ruling in years, the California Supreme Court has held that the “one hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation,” which employers must provide employees for each day they miss the statutorily mandated meal break is to be considered wages.
In the most eagerly anticipated California employment law ruling in years, the California Supreme Court has held that the “one hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation,” which employers must provide employees for each day they miss the statutorily mandated meal break is to be considered wages. As such, claims for failure to provide meal periods are subject to the three-year statute of limitations applicable to violations of California’s wage laws.
In Murphy v. Kenneth Cole, the California Supreme Court addressed the issue that has fast become one of the “hottest topics” in the area of California wage and hour law. Under California law, all employees must be afforded the opportunity to take a ten-minute paid rest break for every four hours the employee works. Additionally, all employees must take a thirty-minute, uninterrupted, unpaid meal break for every five hours of work. There are two exceptions to this requirement: one for employees who work fewer than six hours who voluntarily waive their meal period, and one for employees who work in positions where they cannot be relieved of all duty and who voluntarily execute written meal period waivers. If employees are not afforded the opportunity to take their rest breaks, and if they do not take their mandatory meal breaks, they are entitled to receive one hour of pay, at their regular rate of compensation, for every day on which they miss their rest and meal breaks.
At issue in Murphy was the characterization of that “one hour of pay” the employee is provided. While recognizing that a tangential effect of the requirement to provide the sum to the employee is to modify employer behavior, the Court held that the primary reason for the requirement is to compensate the employee for the fact that he or she was not provided the unpaid, uninterrupted thirty-minute meal break.
Employers' Bottom Line:
This case establishes, yet again, the importance of making certain that employers comply with all wage and hour requirements. The financial ramifications for non-compliance can be astronomical. California wage and hour law is very different from the federal FLSA, so simply complying with the FLSA is not enough to protect employers from significant exposure in California. If in doubt, please have your wage and hour practices reviewed by experienced California employment counsel. If you have any questions regarding this decision or California employment law, please contact the Ford & Harrison attorney with whom you usually work or the author of this Alert, Helene Wasserman, a partner in our Los Angeles office, 213-237-2403, firstname.lastname@example.org.