California Employers Are Closer to Receiving Clarity Regarding Meal and Rest Period Obligations

California Employment and Labor Update

On October 4, 2011, the California Supreme Court moved one step closer to providing California employers with much-needed clarity regarding California’s meal and rest period rules. The Court set oral argument in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court of San Diego (Hohnbaum), the closely-watched meal and rest period case, for November 8, 2011. Accordingly, nearly two years since the Supreme Court took Brinker under review, employers can look forward to a Supreme Court decision by February 6, 2012.

At issue in Brinker is whether California employers are obligated to provide meal and rest breaks to non-exempt employees by making them available or by ensuring that they are actually taken. Also at issue is the timing of meal periods, specifically whether employers must provide employees with one meal period for every five consecutive hours of work, known as the “rolling five-hour” requirement. The California Court of Appeal previously decided these issues in favor of employers by holding that they must “make available” (not “ensure”) meal periods and that there is no “rolling five-hour” requirement. A number of federal courts have agreed with this interpretation of the law.

Unfortunately, when the Supreme Court took Brinker under review, California employers were left without clarity regarding these aspects of California’s meal and rest period rules. As a result, California employers have faced the challenging combination of heightened uncertainty over their obligations along with an increase in potential class action lawsuits. Now that oral argument has been scheduled to take place next month, California employers can expect that they will soon receive the Supreme Court’s highly-anticipated guidance on what they must do to comply with California’s meal and rest period laws. If you have any questions about the Brinker case, please contact the Sidley lawyer with whom you usually work. The Employment and Labor Practice of Sidley Austin LLP

Our Employment and Labor Practice has decades of experience in litigating virtually all types of employment and traditional labor claims before federal and state courts and agencies, ranging from single-plaintiff cases to complex class actions. We also provide comprehensive counseling to our clients on a wide variety of employment and labor issues.

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This Sidley update has been prepared by Sidley Austin LLP for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship. Readers should not act upon this without seeking advice from professional advisers.

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