After years of watchful speculation as the landmark Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court made its way through the court system, the California Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case in April. The ruling was a pivotal moment for employers across the state, especially those in the restaurant industry, whose labor requirements include many industry-specific considerations and exceptions to the rules governing meal and rest period breaks. California restaurant operators anticipate the ruling will clarify the state’s ambiguous laws.
The originating lawsuit, Hohnbaum v. Brinker Restaurant Corp., was filed in 2004 by five employees who claimed the company illegally denied them meal breaks for every five hours worked, as required by California law. The complaint was later certified as a class-action lawsuit with an estimated 63,000 current and former employees.
The April ruling included decisions on several issues, including:
Must employers simply make meal breaks available or must employers ensure a meal break is taken?
What is the timing of the meal break? Are employers obligated to make a meal break available for every five consecutive hours of work?
How many rest breaks are required during a shift?
When must employees take their rest breaks?
Will the court rule on a prospective basis only, holding employers harmless from actions of the past?
The case was nuanced with serious practical implications for restaurants. California law currently causes some logistical headaches for restaurant supervisors to handle, including:
Managers are forced to play lunch room cop to ensure employees take full 30-minute breaks at appropriate times. Clocking in after a break even one minute early subjects restaurant operators to class-action lawsuits.
Many table servers are forced onto mandatory breaks in the midst of the busiest times of day when many would prefer to delay a break or forgo a break to collect more tips.
Being forced into a break while serving tables at peak times takes hard-earned tip money away from servers.
Others would prefer to work through their break to be able to leave 30 minutes early to go to school, pick up kids or engage in other social activities or responsibilities.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE BRINKER DECISION
WEBINAR AUDIO: HOW BRINKER AFFECTS MEAL AND REST BREAK POLICIES
If you were unable to attend one of the CRA-sponsored webinars or seminars on the Brinker decision, or simply want additional guidance on meal and rest break practices, the CRA has arranged for complimentary online access to a detailed webinar from Legal Center firm Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger. The webinar, conducted by attorney Robin E. Largent, editor of the California Labor and Employment Law Blog, is available to CRA members along with the written materials, by clicking here.
Find quick answers to your questions about the CRA and navigating calrest.org.