California Labor Code requires that an off-duty meal period consists of at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted time during which employees are relieved of all duties.
In July, the California Court of Appeals held in L’Chaim House, Inc. v. Division of Labor Standard Enforcement, that an on-duty meal period must last at least 30 minutes as well. The Court asserted, an on-duty meal period is “a permissible intermediate category” which calls for more work than off-duty meal period, but less effort than working hours. Furthermore, even if the meal is on-duty, it still needs to last at least 30 minutes.
What does this mean?
Some guidance can be found in Justice Banke’s concurrence. Justice Bank explained that the basic tasks employees anticipate occurring during their on-duty meal period cannot unduly impinge on their opportunity to eat a “nutritious meal without being rushed over the course of a half-hour.” If employees feel rushed to eat their meals, then they have not been afforded an adequate on-duty meal period.
L’Chaim clarifies that employees with on-duty meal periods must receive at least 30 minutes, just like employees who receive off-duty meal periods. Because the nature of on-duty meal periods requires employees to do some work, Justice Banke suggested that employers should ask the following question to determine whether an on-duty meal period is enough: “Is the employee able to eat a meal without rushing?” If the answer is no, then employers should restructure the employees’ work schedule to provide them with an adequate meal period.
While Employment Practice Liability Insurance (EPLI) does not provide coverage for most wage and hour claims, some carriers provide a defense sublimit. We recommend discussing your on-duty meal period practices with your employment attorney to ensure your organization is following the California Labor Code. Let us know if you would like us to provide you with an EPLI quote. We are here to help!