by Teresa R. Tracy
Another in a series of recent court decisions has made meal and rest break claims significantly more troublesome for California employers.
In May 2022, the California Supreme Court held that premiums for missed meal breaks are “wages” that must be reported on wage statements and paid in a timely manner upon termination. This means that the failure to do so constitutes a wage statement violation and can also trigger waiting time penalties upon termination if all missed meal break penalties are not paid at the time of termination. Naranjo v. Spectrum Security Services, Inc.
While the court did not specifically address missed rest breaks, it is not far-fetched to assume that a California court will follow Naranjo and impose the same requirements for rest breaks. The court also did not address whether its decision will be retroactive or only prospective.
The practical ramification of these decisions is that plaintiffs’ attorneys will have a field day filing class actions against employers who do not instruct their managers, payroll departments, and payroll providers to immediately add a new line to wage statements for missed meal break penalties, pay the penalties as if they were wages for timing purposes, and make sure that such penalties are included with a timely final paycheck upon termination. It may be prudent to do the same for missed rest breaks. Employers should have clear policies about meal and rest breaks, have a well-known and easily-accessed method for employees to report missed breaks (including breaks that are late, short, or interrupted), and train managers and supervisors to monitor employee breaks. Scheduling breaks and enforcing them may also be a wise step to reduce exposure to these kinds of claims.
This article is made available for educational purposes and to provide general information on current legal topics, not to provide specific legal advice. The publication of this article does not create any attorney-client relationship and should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney.