On February 25, 2021, the California Supreme Court issued an opinion regarding California’s meal period laws. It dramatically changes employers’ obligations in two respects, and reaffirms one key provision.
First, if an employer is using a timekeeping system that “rounds” employee time entries for payroll at the beginning and end of the day, employers are now PROHIBITED from allowing the system to also round employee punches for meal periods. In other words, employers must record that employees have actually clocked out for at least 30 minutes on each day that a meal period is required and taken, and cannot round punches to 30 minutes.
Second, if an employer’s records show that a meal period did not comply with California law, it is presumed the employee is owed a meal period premium payment. An employer can introduce evidence to overcome that presumption, but it is difficult.
But, an employer satisfies the meal period obligation if it relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities and permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so. An employer is not obligated to police meal breaks and ensure no work thereafter is performed. There is no meal period violation if an employee voluntarily chooses to work during a meal period after the employer has relieved the employee of all duty. The voluntariness of an employee’s choice matters because an employer may not undermine a formal policy of providing meal breaks by pressuring employees to perform their duties in ways that omit breaks.
The bottom line is that timekeeping systems must ensure at least 30 minutes of meal period time taken and recorded.