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Employers required to follow stricter meal period practices under California Supreme Court ruling

March 10, 2021 4279

Quick Summary:

As a best practice, employers should provide legally compliant meal breaks, discourage employees from working through their meal breaks and avoid paying meal period premium routinely.

A recent California Supreme Court ruling that requires stricter meal practices in the workplace underscores the responsibility of dental practice owners to enforce break policies that are compliant with California laws.

The Feb. 25 ruling stems from the Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC case in which an employee sued her employer for not complying with California’s requirement to provide a minimum 30-minute unpaid meal period within the first five hours of work.

According to the lawsuit, the employer’s timekeeping policy rounded time punches to the nearest 10-minute increment, resulting in meal periods that were as short as 22 minutes being rounded up to 30 minutes.

The Supreme Court found that rounding the time for meal breaks infringes on an employee’s right to a full 30-minute meal period and that an employee must be properly compensated for shortened breaks.

The court also ruled that time records showing a missed short or late meal period raises a “rebuttable presumption” of a meal period violation and that an employer must ensure that an employee is relieved of their duties and has a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break.

This case highlights the importance of dental practice owners to have clear meal break policies and accurate timekeeping practices in place.

According to Littler, an employment and labor law practice, employers should consider the following:

  • Have policies and practices that notify employees of the availability of timely, uninterrupted and complete meal and rest periods.
  • Accurately track that employees are provided with a minimum full 30-minute meal period that starts prior to completing the fifth hour of work and the tenth hour for second meal periods and does not utilize rounding.
  • Determine whether an employee is entitled to a meal period premium, which is one hour of pay at their regular rate of pay, and pay that premium accordingly.

Employers who fail to provide a required meal period must pay a meal period premium. An employer is not liable for meal period violations if they can prove that meal period premiums were paid or that the employee was provided a compliant meal period during which they voluntarily chose to work during the break or skip, shorten or delay the break.

As a best practice, employers should provide legally compliant meal breaks, discourage employees from working through their meal breaks and avoid paying meal period premium routinely.

Dental practice owners can use CDA’s Sample Meal and Rest Break Policy as a guide for drafting a policy specific to their dental office.