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CA Locks Down Their Meal Break Requirements

California is known for its strict employment laws, and meal breaks are no exception. Recently, the meal break violations in Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC, have elucidated some issues surrounding CA timekeeping rules. This case specifically highlighted issues related to meal breaks and time rounding. Overall, it’s best to steer clear of time rounding practices when it comes to employee meal periods. If you’re a business owner or manager, you need to understand this case to know how to handle meal periods moving forward.

How Meal Breaks in CA Work

Under the general meal break rules, California employers must provide their employees with a 30-minute meal break within the first 5 hours of their shifts. Employers also must provide 10-minute breaks, depending on the length of an employee’s shift. If employers do not comply with these rules, they must provide an employee with a full hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay for every workday a full meal break wasn’t provided. You can read more about CA lunch and break laws here.

Remember, the FLSA requires employers to pay employees for all hours worked, including any overtime. If you aren’t tracking employee time precisely, you won’t pay them accurately. Underpaying or overpaying your employees can lead to fines and other legal problems. Therefore, it’s best to monitor employee time closely and accurately.

Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC- What Happened?

In this supreme court case, Donahue argued that their employer wasn’t strictly complying with California’s 30-minute meal period policy. They also found that the employer’s timekeeping policy wasn’t compliant with the law. After a careful evaluation, it turned out that AMN Services wasn’t recording employee meal breaks properly by incorrectly rounding employee time. For example, using improper timekeeping methods, meal breaks that were 22 minutes long were rounded up to 30-minutes. This is an improper way to track and monitor employee time.

On February 25th, the supreme court came to a final ruling that time rounding results in the underpayment and overpayment of employees and isn’t allowed.

Issues With Their Time Keeping System

Most states permit time rounding; however, you must calculate it correctly. The employer, in this case, calculated time to the nearest 10-minute increment which resulted in payroll issues. For example, two people who clocked at 11:58 am and 12:04 pm respectively would both have the same timestamp of 12:00 pm. Although both employees clocked in at different times, they both ended up with the same clock-out records. If they have the same records, one person may possibly work less than the other and would still get paid for the same amount of time as the other worker. This timekeeping method is unfair to employees and results in underpayments and overpayments during payroll.

Employers must pay their employees accurately for all hours worked. If you’re recording their meal breaks incorrectly, you are not tracking their time correctly and you’re not paying your employees what they have earned.

5-Hour Issues

AMN’s timekeeping system also failed to show whether employees missed, shortened, or delayed their meal periods. Therefore, there was no way to tell whether the meal break was compliant and accurate. Meaning, you couldn’t tell if they took their breaks within the first 5 hours or if they took a full 30-minute break. Without an audit trail and record of what actually happened, the employer had no way to see whether the employee actually took breaks.

This issue is exactly why many customers love Timesheets.com’s ability to record meal breaks. The system not only captures clock in and out times properly, but it also notifies employers if employees take lunch after the first 5 hours–as required. Along with that, each record is coupled with an audit trail record, so all timestamps (including meal breaks) are properly recorded. This helps remedy meal break issues that arise.

The Ruling and Final Decision

After careful consideration, the supreme court ruled that CA employers cannot engage in time rounding practices. This means that you may not adjust the hours an employee works to the nearest time increment. This is because time rounding results in improper payment of employees and it infringes on an employee’s right to a full 30-minute meal period.

Please note that the law doesn’t require employers to “police” their employees into taking their meal breaks. For more information, read our article about the employer’s role in ensuring an employee takes their break.

What You Can Do Next

If you’re a California employer, you need to carefully review your meal break policy. In order to avoid possible meal break violations, it’s recommended that you allow and encourage employees to take meal breaks for 40-45 minutes. 30-minute breaks are too close to the boundary. To save yourself from legal trouble, it’s wise to give employees more break time to prevent inadvertent violations.

You also may want to remind your employees how important it is to take breaks and when to take their breaks. So many people have a “go-go-go” mindset, and they believe that working through their breaks and staying productive is more important than taking breaks. Unfortunately, although employees may want to work through their lunches or take shorter meal breaks, it’s not a great idea. It’s a violation of the law. The only way they can get around the meal break requirement is by qualifying for a meal break waiver, which is an agreement between an employee and employer. You can read this article to learn how meal break waivers work in CA.

In order to avoid inadvertently violating employment laws, we suggest that you consider investing in a time tracking service that properly monitors employee meal breaks. By doing this, you will be able to rest assured that you and your employees are following the law correctly. This is why Timesheets.com is a great fix for business! It’s an easy way to track attendance, lunches, overtime, time off, expenses, and more. Try Timesheets.com for FREE today to see how it can work for you!

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