California Supreme Court Says Employers Cannot Round Meals & Breaks

On Thursday, February 25, 2021, the California Supreme Court ruled that employers are prohibited from rounding meal breaks to the nearest 10-minute increment, which reverses an appellate court’s decision that the practice is legal under California labor law. 

The state’s highest court said that rounding up employees’ shortened meal period via clock mechanism essentially deprived them of premium pay, which pays workers up to one additional hour for any missed meal or rest break. Additionally, if an employer’s time records demonstrate noncompliant meal breaks, such action is considered a confirmed rebuttal presumption of noncompliance. 

In Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC (2014), the plaintiff (Kennedy Donohue) was a nurse recruiter for AMN Services, LLC. Under the company’s policy, nurse recruiters were given meal periods of up to 30 minutes each, starting no later than the end of their fifth hour on the clock. 

However, the plaintiff claimed the company discouraged workers from taking their entire lunch breaks and said the time-keeping system that rounded meal periods to the nearest 10-minute increment led to employees being denied premium pay because their breaks were cut short. So, if an employee takes a 21-minute meal break or a 39-minute meal break, both times would be rounded to 30 minutes. 

In 2018, the state appellate court ruled that AMN’s policy is a “practical method” for employers to calculate work time and cited a standard set by See’s Candy Shops, Inc. v. Superior Court to show that rounding is not against the law as long as the neutrality standard is valid. However, the California Supreme Court ruled that rounding should not be applied to meal breaks due to the loss of premium pay for shortened or missed 30-minute lunches. 

Furthermore, the state’s highest court also said that delaying or shortening meal breaks by even a few minutes may make stressed and tired workers more vulnerable to injury. In the end, the justices remanded the case to trial court, where parties will have a chance to present evidence to show that employees voluntarily decided to take shorter meal breaks. 

If your employer has violated California’s meal and rest break rules, contact Polaris Law Group today at (888) 796-4010. Our Hollister firm has been helping employees for more than 25 years. 

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