The Court makes clear the following: “When someone is … employed … for five hours, an employer is put to a choice: it must (1) afford an off duty meal period; (2) consent to a mutually agreed-upon waiver if one hour or less will end the shift; or (3) obtain written agreement to an on duty meal period if circumstances permit. Failure to do one of these will render the employer liable for premium pay.” Brinker, p. 35.
At issue in Brinker Restaurant Corporation v. Superior Court was whether California employers must ensure that their employees actually take their meal and rest periods or merely make them available. To the collective relief of California employers, the court found that an employer must only provide meal and rest periods to its employees, leaving the employees free to use the period for whatever purpose they desire. The employer is not obligated to ensure no work is performed during the period.
The Court continues: “[a]n 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.” Brinker, Slip Opinion, p. 36 (emphasis added).
The Court further acknowledged that what will suffice may vary from industry to industry, but held, “the employer is not obligated to police meal breaks and ensure no work thereafter is performed. Bona fide relief from duty and the relinquishing of control satisfies the employer’s obligations, and work by a relieved employee during a meal break does not thereby place the employer in violation of its obligations and create liability for premium pay.” Brinker, p. 36-7 (emphasis added).