Existing law requires that an employee who works more than five hours a day must be provided with a meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that if the total work period per day is no more than six hours, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent. An employee who works for more than 10 hours a day must be provided with a second meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that if the total hours worked are no more than 12 hours, the second meal period may be waived by mutual consent, but only if the first meal period was not waived. To give you an idea of how costly violating this law can be, a jury in Oakland recently awarded $172 million to thousands of employees who claimed that Wal-Mart denied them these required meal periods.
The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) has proposed a new regulation clarifying an employer’s obligation to provide meal periods to its employees. The proposed regulation defines the term provide as “to supply or make available a meal period to the employee and give the employee the opportunity to take the meal period.” The proposed regulation clarifies that an employer is deemed to have provided a meal period to an employee if the employer: (1) has informed the employee, either orally or in writing, of his or her right to take a meal period; (2) gives the employee the opportunity to take the meal period; and (3) maintains accurate time records. Notwithstanding these three criteria, an employer may still establish by a preponderance of the evidence that a meal period was in fact actually supplied or made available to the employee and the employee was in fact actually given the opportunity to take the meal period. The proposed regulation also clarifies when the required meal period(s) must begin. For employees who work more than five hours but no more than six hours per day, the meal period must be provided during the sixth hour of work, but may be provided earlier. For example, if an employee works from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., the 30 minute meal period must be provided between 1:01 p.m. and 2:00 p.m., but may be provided earlier. Moreover, the employer and employee can mutually waive the employer’s obligation to provide a meal period.
For employees who work more than six hours but no more than 10 hours per day, the meal period must be provided before the completion of the sixth hour of work. The employer cannot waive its obligation to provide the meal period. However, an employee may initiate a request for approval from the employer to: (A) not take the meal period for that day; or (B) take only a portion of the meal period for that day. The employer has the discretion to approve or deny the request. The employer’s approval or denial of such request is not a violation of the employer’s duty to provide a meal period.
For employees who work more than 10 hours but no more than 12 hours per day, the employer must provide a second 30 minute meal period. The second meal period may be provided any time between 10 hours and 1 minute and 12 hours. If the total hours worked are no more than 12 hours, the employer’s obligation to provide a second meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and the employee, but only if the first meal period was not waived.
The DLSE’s proposed regulation has already undergone two rounds of rather substantial revisions. The DLSE is currently considering comments to the most recent version of the proposed regulation, and may revise the proposed regulation yet again. As soon as the regulation is finalized and adopted, we will update you in a future edition of this newsletter.