Milestone Decision Regarding Meal Breaks at Work


On April 12th, a decision for the Brinker Restaurant Corporation v. Superior Court case was finally reached. This long-awaited decision had been pending for over three years. Basically, this decision clarifies the ways in which California employers should administer meal and rest breaks.

Brinker International’s restaurants include Chili’s and Maggiano’s Little Italy. The plaintiffs in this major class action case included both front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house restaurant employees. They were all non-exempt, hourly paid employees who worked at one or more of Brinker’s restaurants. They claimed that they were discouraged and disallowed their meal breaks on a continuous basis.

Essentially, the decision of this case clarified two main points. First, employers are not required to force their employees to take meal and rest breaks. Employers must provide an uninterrupted 30-minute break for every 5 hours of work; however, it is not their responsibility to ensure that their employees actually take it. Secondly, employers do not get penalized if their employees skip or only take part of their break. It is at the employee’s discretion as to how they use their provided break, or use it at all.

It is still necessary for employers to track when their employees start and finish their meal and rest breaks. If an employee chooses to work through their break, their employer is still mandated to regularly pay them for all hours worked. It is important to note that if an employee works no more than 5 hours, they are not entitled to a meal break. It is also important to note that employers must provide a 10-minute rest period for employees that exceed three-and-a-half hours of work.

Ultimately, this decision has been regarded as a favorable outcome for California employers. They should take it with a grain of salt, though. They should use caution and counsel when it comes to meal and rest breaks. In particular, employers must avoid incentivizing their employees to not take their breaks. Giving your employees a reason to not take a break, or intimidating them not to, is unlawful. To avoid this, it is advisable for employers to clearly articulate that working through breaks will not contribute to a favorable outcome, such as a raise or career advancement. Undoubtedly, employers should use diligence when creating and communicating their company’s meal and rest break policies, and making sure that they are in compliance with the California Labor Code.