California Lunch Break Laws

Murphy’s Law and the California Lunch Break

In 2007, Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. was considered the most important Employment Law case of the year, with its overall focus on the California lunch break.  This ruling revisited the ground rules originally established under the Fair Labor Act governing previous wage and hour claims over missed break periods, stating that the “additional hour of pay” due employees for who work through meal and rest breaks constitutes a wage and not a penalty.

This landmark California labor law legislation is a victory for employees who seek unpaid wages and waiting penalties for missed meal and rest periods because it extends the one year statute of limitations governing penalty claims to 3 years for wage lawsuits.

Although, on the surface this ruling only favors employees, employers actually have an enormous benefit as well.  Had the court ruled the other way, the biggest problem would have been that it would have criminalized having employees work through lunch.  That is, if the “additional hour of pay” Meal Premium was a penalty, then it would mean that the conduct was illegal.

What this also means is that if the Meal Premium was ruled as a penalty, and missing meal periods was illegal, then an employee could not be terminated for refusing to work through a meal break, and any employer who required a worker to work through a meal or rest break would be guilty of a misdemeanor under California Labor Code § 553.

As it stands, the ruling inevitably avoids a large amount of potential issues around the illegality of working through meal breaks.

On the downside for employers, this difference in classification over “wage” and “penalty” now makes employers potentially liable for millions of dollars more in back pay and damages concerning wage and hour laws which now can go back 3 years and in some cases 4.

If you have a question or potential claim concerning California labor laws for lunch breaks, contact an experienced overtime attorney today by submitting our online Case Evaluation Form.