Earlier this month, the Fourth Appellate District reversed a trial court judgment, stating that a wage order authorizing health care workers’ waiver of meal breaks on shifts longer than 12 hours was partially invalid.
In this case, Jazmina Gerard, Kristiane McElroy and Jeffery Carl, healthcare workers at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center filed the putative class action against their employer.
They are alleging they all signed second meal period waivers and occasionally worked shifts longer than 12 hours without being provided a second meal period, as required under Labor Code sections 226.7 and 512(a).
A Precedent-Setting Decision
As is common in a hospital setting, Orange Coast Memorial’s policy allowed healthcare employees who worked shifts longer than 10 hours caring for patients to voluntarily waive one or two of their meal breaks even if their shifts extended beyond 12 hours.
Orange Coast filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) Wage Order No. 5, Section 11 (d), authorized healthcare workers to waive one of two required meal periods on shifts longer than eight hours.
The trial court agreed and granted the summary judgment. Interestingly enough, the appellate court held that the IWC rule was partly invalid.
The appellate court on the other hand upheld Section 227.7 (b), which prohibits an employer from requiring an employee to work during mandated meal or rest periods. An employer who violated these requirements must pay premium wages.
So, the appellate court essentially ruled that the three employees were entitled to seek premium pay for any second meal periods.
Providing Meal Breaks
Under California law, an employer has a duty to provide a 30-minute meal period for every five hours worked. An employer is not required to make sure that no work is performed during that time.
So, employees can decide how to spend that time. However, the employer has a duty to relieve employees of all their duties and give them a reasonable opportunity take a break.
Employers cannot discourage or keep employees from taking those breaks. Employers have three potential choices including affording “an off-duty meal period, to obtain a consent to a mutual waiver if the shift is no more than six hours or to get a written agreement to an on-duty meal period if circumstances allow it.
It remains to be seen how hospitals will handle the precedent set by the appellate court in this case. It is important that all employers continue to review and evaluate their policies relating to wage and hour issues.
If you believe that your employer has violated your rights, please contact an experienced wage and hour violation lawyer to evaluate your options.