Give Me a Break! Court Clears Up Confusion on When Rest Breaks Must Be Provided Employment
May 2, 2016 by Andrew Baker
California’s rest-break rule requires employers to provide employees with a paid ten-minute rest period which “insofar as practicable” must be in the middle of each “work period.” The rule specifies that one break must be given “at the rate of” ten minutes per four work hours.
Most employers provide one rest break in the first half of an eight-hour day, and a second in the second half of the day. But is this what is required, or is it OK to combine rest breaks so long as the total rest time satisfies a ratio of ten minutes for every four hours? And what the heck does “insofar as practicable” mean?
A California Court of Appeal has tackled these questions head on and provided answers that will help guide employers and employees in complying with the rest-break rule. Rodriguez v. EME, Inc. (April 22, 2016).
First the court ruled that combined rest breaks – for example combining both rest breaks with the meal break in one, extended break – do not automatically satisfy the rule. The norm is one ten-minute rest break in the middle of the first four-hour block of the shift, and a second in the middle of the second four-hour block. Employers can deviate from this norm only if they can demonstrate that it is not “practicable” to provide breaks per the norm.
Next, the court clarified what an employer must show to demonstrate that it is not “practicable” to provide breaks per this norm. A departure from the norm, the court concluded, “is permissible only when the departure (1) will not unduly affect employee welfare and (2) is tailored to alleviate a material burden that would be imposed on the employer by implementing the preferred schedule.” The court noted that the “welfare or comfort” of employees is considered in the first part of this test. Employee preference would appear to be a determining factor here. The court explained that an employer can satisfy the second part of the test if it proves, for example, that a deviation from the norm enables it to avoid “material economic losses attributable to its particular production activities.”
The bottom line is that except under extremely unusual circumstances, and generally only with employee consent, may an employer provide rest breaks on a schedule other than one break in the middle of each four-hour block of working time.
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