The California Supreme Court has ruled that employers are prohibited from using rounding practices when tracking whether meal periods are provided in compliance with state requirements.
In California, employers must provide employees the opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute meal period after no more than five hours of work, unless the total workday is less than six hours and the employer and employee mutually consent to waive the meal period. The meal period must begin before the end of the fifth hour of work, and the employee must be relieved of all duty during any state-mandated meal period. If the employee isn't relieved of all duty during the 30-minute meal period, the meal period counts as hours worked, which must be compensated at the employee's regular rate of pay.
California law also requires employers to provide employees with a second, uninterrupted meal period of at least 30 minutes if an employee works more than 10 hours per day. If an employee works no more than 12 hours, the employer and employee may mutually agree to waive the second meal period, but only if the first meal period was not waived. To satisfy the second meal period requirement, the employee must begin the meal period before the end of the tenth hour of work.
Failure to provide a meal break by the end of the fifth (and tenth) hour results in a penalty of one additional hour of pay at the employee's regular rate of compensation for each workday that the meal period isn't provided.
California Supreme Court Case:
In the case before the California Supreme Court (Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC), the employer rounded time punches to the nearest 10-minute increment for purposes of calculating work time. For example, if an employee clocked out for lunch at 11:02 a.m. and clocked in after lunch at 11:25 a.m., the employer would have recorded the time punches as 11:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Therefore, even though the actual meal period was 23 minutes, the employer would have recorded the meal period as 30 minutes.
The court found that with respect to meal period punches, rounding was not permitted. It held that because California requires strict compliance with state meal period requirements, a rounding policy applied to meal periods was prohibited, as it could lead to employees receiving meal periods under 30 minutes. It found that even a seemingly minor infraction, such as an employee receiving a meal period of 28 or 29 minutes, would violate California’s meal period requirements. This, in turn, would obligate an employer to provide impacted employees with missed meal period premium pay.
California employers should ensure that they are tracking meal periods to the minute. If employees are recording rest periods, the same principle would apply. If a meal period isn't provided in compliance with the states rules, employees are entitled to one additional hour of pay, unless they voluntarily chose to shorten or delay the meal period.
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