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May 10, 2022

California Court of Appeals Ruling Underscores Employee Right to Off-site Meal Breaks

In a recent ruling (Estrada v. Royalty Carpet Mills, Inc., Appeal Nos. G058397, G058969 (Cal. App. 4th March 23, 2022), the California Court of Appeals further cemented a rule long recognized in the state that employees must be free to leave their employers’ premises during their meal periods.
Home » News » California Court of Appeals Ruling Underscores Employee Right to Off-site Meal Breaks

Matthew Purushotham
Tue, 05/10/2022

In a recent ruling (Estrada v. Royalty Carpet Mills, Inc., Appeal Nos. G058397, G058969 (Cal. App. 4th March 23, 2022), the California Court of Appeals further cemented a rule long recognized in the state that employees must be free to leave their employers’ premises during their meal periods.

California’s Labor Code and wage orders do not expressly include this requirement. However, in 2012, the California Supreme Court had found that employees must be “free to come and go as they please” during off-duty meal periods (Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, 53 Cal.4th 1004 (2012)). This was consistent with the position the Labor Commissioner had taken for decades.

The California Industrial Welfare Commission’s wage orders define “hours of work” as time in which employees are “suffered and permitted” to work or “subject to the control of an employer.” In either case, employees must be paid for such time. To the extent that employees are required to remain on their employers’ premises during meal breaks, the Labor Commission has reasoned that such employees are “subject to the control” of their employers and must be paid for that time.

The Court in Brinker identified three criteria that employers must satisfy to meet the wage orders’ requirement for an unpaid meal period. An employee must 1) have at least 30 minutes uninterrupted, 2) be free to leave the premises, 3) be relieved of all duty for the entire period. These criteria are different than those that the wage orders apply to employees in the health care industry. Such employees are only due pay for meal periods to the extent they are “suffered or permitted” to work during their meal periods. This is the standard that applies generally to employees under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, and it is a more stringent standard than the “subject to the control” standard because it only entitles employees to pay to the extent they are suffered or permitted to perform work; confinement to their employer’s premises is not enough.

MSE has recovered unpaid wages for workers in meal period cases under the FLSA, including cases involving Child Protective Specialists and FDNY Motor Vehicle Operators in New York City

For more information on this and other common wage and hour violations, visit https://www.mselaborlaw.com/resources/common-violations. If you believe your employer has failed to properly compensate you, including failing to pay you time and one-half for hours worked over 40 in a workweek, contact MSE at info@mselaborlaw.com.

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When McGillivary Steele Elkin LLP decides to take your case, it is because we believe there is an unacceptable workplace violation that has negatively impacted you or resulted in your employer paying less than what the law requires and which we have a reasonable chance of remedying. We recognize that meritorious claims should not go unremedied because of the level of a person’s resources.

To ensure accessible and available legal representation for all our clients, MSE handles cases through different forms of fee arrangements, including contingency fees, hourly fees and fixed fees.

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