California Court of Appeals Decision Reviewed by California Supreme Court: Meal Breaks for Hospital Employees on Long Shifts

July 14, 2015 - The California Supreme Court will review the decision made by California Court of Appeals regarding Gerard v. Orange Coast Memorial. The case is regarding providing meal breaks for hospital employees scheduled for long shifts. The meal-break suit outlines the dispute over whether or not an Industrial Welfare Commission order that allows health care workers to waive meal periods provided during long shifts actually conflicts with state law.

The ruling of the California Court of Appeals invalidated the portion of California’s Industrial Welfare Commission or IWC Wage Order No. 5. This particular portion allows non-exempt health care employees to waive their second meal break in shifts that are over 12 hours. It was seen as a landmark decision for both health care workers and their employers. Health care employers have relied on the Wage Order provision as do many other California employers. 

The Gerard case plaintiffs sued under the California Private Attorney General Act on their own behalf and on behalf of other employees in similar situations. They allege that (notwithstanding the Wage Order) Orange Coast Memorial was violating California State Labor Code. Employees at Orange Coast Memorial consistently work 12-hour shifts. Occasionally employees at the medical center work shifts longer than 12 hours. Any hospital employee that worked shifts over 10 hours was able to sign a written waiver of one of their two provided meal periods during long shifts; even if the “long” shift was 12+ hours.

The Court of Appeal addressed the seeming contradiction between IWC Wage Order No. 5 and the California State Labor Code Section 512 regarding meal periods and long shifts. The Court of Appeal ruling is troubling in its reversal of the rule health care facilities/employers rely on regarding non-exempt workers. The state’s high court will take up the case.

If you need additional information on California State Labor Law, IWC Wage Order No. 5 or meal breaks required by law in the workplace, contact the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik