California Courts Rethink Rest Break Rules

See results of a survey on the rise of wage and hour litigation here.

Brinker Restaurant Corp. was in deep trouble. In 2005, five employees of the restaurant chain that owns Chili's, Maggiano's, Macaroni Grill and On the Border, and operates more than 100 eateries in California, filed a class action suit alleging the company failed to provide workers required meal and rest periods. The five sought to represent a potential class of 59,000 employees.

The court said the portion of the law that requires rest breaks be provided for every four hours worked or "major fraction thereof" should be interpreted to require a rest break only when the employee's shift exceeds three and half hours--earlier decisions had interpreted "major fraction" to mean any shift longer than two hours.

Not So Fast
Precisely because Brinker is so groundbreaking, many litigators in California believe it is ripe for review by the California Supreme Court. Indeed, some of the central holdings of Brinker seem to be in direct conflict with earlier decisions from appellate courts in the state. For instance, in 2005 the Third District Appellate Court found in Cicairos v. Summit Logistics Inc. that class adjudication of meal period violations was appropriate because the issue was not why employees missed breaks, but merely if they missed them--a matter that could be easily determined from time records employers are required to maintain. In addition, several other cases concerning the same issues are still being litigated.

Adele Nicholas

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