Employees who are entitled to a meal period or a rest period under the California Labor Code and who miss out on those benefits now have up to three years (four in some cases) to claim the additional pay the law says they’re entitled to.
The Labor Code specifies that, “No employer shall require an employee to work during any meal or rest period . . . If an employer fails to provide an employee a meal period or rest period . . . the employer shall pay the employee an additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation for each workday that the meal or rest period is not provided.”
Thanks to a recent California Supreme Court decision, eligible employees can collect the extra hour of pay they’re entitled to under the Labor Code for each day they didn’t get a full meal period or break even if they wait up to three years to file the claim.
Recent case: John Murphy worked as a manager at a Kenneth Cole retail store. He claimed to regularly work nine to 10 hours per day and was only able to take an uninterrupted, work-free meal break about once every two weeks.
Murphy sued and his case went to the California Supreme Court. The court unanimously held that the extra payments were, not employer penalties. Because the statute of limitations for filing wage claims is three years, employees have that long to file. Had the court considered the payment a penalty, a one-year limitation would have applied. (Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Productions, No. S140308, California Supreme Court, 2007)
Final note: Make sure you have effective meal and break policies in place. If employees miss their breaks, pay them what the Labor Code says you owe. If you’re unsure how to create appropriate policies, contact a California employment-law attorney for guidance.