The Court of Appeal of California has finally clarified how much employers owe employees who don’t get their required meal and other breaks. The penalty is two hours of pay per day if workers missed both types of breaks.
Recent case: The California Labor Code provides that employees are entitled to an unpaid 30-minute meal break after working for five hours, and a 10-minute rest break for every four hours of work. The meal rule has been in place since 1916, and the break rule since 1932.
A decade ago, after it became clear that some California employers weren’t following the rules, a state wage order added a penalty for noncompliance: one hour’s pay for missed meals or breaks.
UPS was sued by employees who claimed they frequently missed both meal-time and break-time. They said UPS owed them two hours’ worth of pay for each such day. UPS said it couldn’t owe more than one hour per day.
The Court of Appeal of California agreed with the employees and said the wage order separated the penalty for each missed break. Because the wording indicated an apparent desire to provide employees with a remedy that would persuade employers to honor their break obligations, employees are to be paid for two hours when they miss both breaks in one day. (UPS, et al., v. Superior Court, No. B227190, Court of Appeal of California, 2nd Appellate Division, 2011)
Final note: Avoiding this double penalty is easy. Just make sure your employees get a chance to have a meal break after five hours of work and a short 10-minute break for every four hours of work. If you ignore the law, chances are an enterprising attorney will find an employee willing to sue.