Supreme Court gives a break to employers and workers

April 13, 2012

By Katy Grimes

California employers have been regulated and mandated to the point of ridiculousness — and unprofitability. But a California Supreme Court decision this week finally gives employers a break—while still giving employees a break.

Resolving the increasing uncertainty due to legal hair-splitting by employment lawyers over the scope of an employer’s obligations for meal and break periods, the California Supreme Court ruled this week that an employer’s obligation is only to provide the break periods, but not force employees to take the breaks.

The law states that employees must be provided a 10-minute break within the first five hours of an employee’s shift. And, during an eight-hour shift, employers must provide two 10-minute breaks and a 30-minute meal period.

The decision came down in Brinker Restaurant Corporation vs. Superior Court, and is only one of many class action lawsuits on means and rest breaks pending in California. California’s many trial lawyers have made successful practices of suing California’s diminishing employers.

Brinker Restaurant operates Chili’s and Maggiano’s Little Italy. 

At issue in the state is the rights of employers — those people who stick their necks out, and invest their own money into companies which provide a product or service. These employers hire employees, pay them a wage and provide benefits to produce the product or service.

Attack on employers

But employers in California have been under attack for many years.

In addition to the issue of meals and break periods are the putative overtime laws, and whether employers had to pay overtime after eight hours in a day, or after 40 hours (total) of work in a week. Employers argue that paying overtime after eight hours every day restricts scheduling and production flexibility. Most other states base overtime on the 40-hour work week.

California also does not allow employees to work flexible-schedule weeks, such as four 10-hour days; or three 12-hour days, without paying overtime. Many employees prefer these alternative schedules, and employers find much more production and scheduling flexibility with the alternative schedules.

California’s overtime, and hour and wage laws, are complex and largely appear to be driven by the political party in power.

Overtime was enacted many years ago to compensate employees who were being “overworked” by employers, defined by the government as working employees beyond eight hours in one workday. Overtime law requires employers to pay employees time and a half for working more than eight hours in one day, as well as more than 40 hours in one week. Double-time is paid after 12 hours in one day, and again on the seventh consecutive workday in one week.

In effect through 1997, the old daily overtime rules required only certain industries that had specific wage orders regulating them, to pay overtime daily. Manufacturing and clerical workers were subjected to the daily overtime laws. But construction, mining and logging were not, so they could instead opt to pay daily overtime or defer to the federal standard of paying overtime after 40 hours worked in a workweek.

New law

In 1998, Gov. Pete Wilson signed legislation relieving California’s employers from the state’s daily overtime laws, allowing employers to pay overtime after 40 hours in one week, instead of the daily overtime. Widely hailed as a pro-business move, Wilson’s goal was to give employers and employees more flexibility in production and schedules. Labor union representatives were outraged, and claimed their members would lose income with the overtime change.

Almost immediately, Assemblyman Wally Knox, D-Los Angeles, authored AB60, which was referred to as organized labor’s reaction to Wilson’s elimination of daily overtime. In 1999, Gov. Gray Davis signed AB60, called the “Eight Hour Day Restoration and Workplace Flexibility Act of 1999,” dramatically changing the state’s overtime compensation laws. The act went into effect for most employers on January 1, 2000. However the list of exemptions was long, and included public employees.

The 1999 act’s most dramatic change was the restoration of the daily overtime requirement. Ironically, union employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement were not covered by AB60, nor were public employees.

Federal law, and the vast majority of states, only require that overtime be paid for hours worked in excess of 40 per week. However, California requires that overtime be paid after eight hours work in one workday and after 40 hours work in one workweek.

Along with overtime laws, meal and break periods became regulated. Instead of allowing employees and employers to determine break and meal periods, the government stepped in and overreacted.

Fortunately, the state Supreme Court decision this week brought a modicum of sanity back to the workplace and may put an end to some of the class action lawsuits.

“In a unanimous opinion authored by Associate Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar, the court explained that neither state statutes nor the orders of the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) compel an employer to ensure employees cease all work during meal periods,” the California courts reported.

The court also upheld the 30-minute meal break period “during which the employee is at liberty to come and go as he or she pleases.”  A meal break must be afforded after no more than five hours of work, and a second meal period provided after no more than 10 hours of work.

The court’s opinion in Brinker Restaurant Corporation v. Superior Court is available on the California Courts Web site.

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  1. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 13 April, 2012, 10:20

    I could never stand fellow employees who used to work though breaks and even lunch time. Most the time it was done to kiss butt and it set a precedent for everyone else. It got to the point that if you didn’t work through breaks and lunchtime you were considered a scofflaw. Human beings need breaks from their work activities to regenerate and remain totally productive. I think employers should demand that their employees take breaks during the day. Unfortunately, most don’t. At least not in the private sector.

    As far as overtime is concerned I can’t count the numbers of Saturdays and Sundays that I had to work to meet deadlines WITHOUT A DIME OF OVERTIME! As a matter of fact – 4 weekend days a month was the norm. This is work that absolutely could NOT be accomplished during the normal workweek. And if I didn’t meet deadlines I was out of a job! So this BS about overtime is a joke, at least in my experience.

    Now compare this to the public sector. I challenge any of you to drive by a government building parking lot on a Saturday or a Sunday and look at how many cars are in the employee lots! ZIPPO except for the cleaning crew. And these leeches get paid more, on average, than the private sector slaves who must work a Saturday or a Sunday for ZERO pay – much less OT!

    The whole idea is to make good slaves out of the private sector employees. If you complain about being forced to work for no pay it’s easy to find a reason to can you. Anybody who has worked in the real world understands this. It’s not brain science.

    Reply this comment
  2. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 13 April, 2012, 13:07

    I was watching an old 1967 Dragnet episode with Jack Webb (and it had OJ Simpsons first on screen appearance) on Antenna TV last week where they were recruiting minorities for work at LAPD, and they gave the pay back then and one guy said “I can make more than that at some of the factories here in LA”……when was the last time a factory job anywhere in CA paid MORE than LAPD???? Probably in the mid 1970’s if not earlier. Today a factory jobs comps at most $15 an hour, while LAPD comp is $100 n hour or more with OT.

    Reply this comment
  3. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 13 April, 2012, 13:08

    BTW hwne Raygun lowered tax rate he took away the credit card interest deductions, which is still with us but tax rates have long ago creeped back up to pre Raygun rates.

    Reply this comment
  4. David H
    David H 13 April, 2012, 19:15

    I’m with you on that one Beelz. I have never had a job that paid overtime, used to work 8 to 8 often and come in on Sundays by preference to working on Saturday. Maybe it’s due to being a college grad and classified as a manager. Always “exempt.” But I think the point is that it should be up to he employer to decide how to treat employes, to a point. Just like you have a right to quit. I’ve quit more than one good job because I burned out and didn’t perceive I was getting a fair shake compared to the productivity of my peers. And the employers whined and complained after I quit. But it was time to move on. That’s a free market. It should be. If anti-trust laws were enforced and large corporation were broke up so complete market segments were not controlled by a relatively small few then that would open up opportunity based on merit(get what you work for). Unions are big offenders too. I personally think the solutions is to get the massive burden of government want off you back to make life easier. Just take a hard look at your bills. Cut them down to mere survival level, and it’s still a burden. Everything from living in shelter to transportation, to putting food in you belly. I think that’s why the hippies move out into the hills, to get away from the “man.” I think it’s going to be taken to a new level in the future. Everybody must worship the Beast or they can not buy or sell.

    Reply this comment
  5. queeg
    queeg 14 April, 2012, 08:46

    If you covet and envy….join a union and a public gravy boat job!

    Some of you have some deeply disturbing vibes in your backgrounds…venting is good for you……get it out…all of it….

    Reply this comment

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