CMTA sponsors comprehensive meal period legislation

By CMTA Staff

Capitol Update, Feb. 29, 2008 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

CMTA, along with the employer community has introduced SB 1539 (Ron Calderon, D-Montebello), a comprehensive solution to meal period breaks that serves all industries regardless of size or union status.  SB 1539 will provide clarity and guidance for the compliance and enforcement of meal period laws.

California’s employers and employees have attempted to comply with Labor Code section 512 since the statute was amended in 1999 (AB 60). The section simply states that a non-exempt employee may not work more than five hours in a workday without being provided with a 30-minute meal period. These provisions have been interpreted in various ways by state enforcement officials and the courts, contributing to significant confusion.  This confusion has lead to costly litigation against California businesses that now may face closure due to exorbitant settlements.  Meal period disputes are currently 40 percent of all California class-action lawsuits and approximately half of all employment-related lawsuits filed in California each year.

Current enforcement interpretations include the following:

  • The employer must compel the worker to cease work during the meal period which requires the employer to police its workforce, watch the clock to ensure the meal period is taken at the prescribed time, for the entire time and without interruption;
  • An employee may not voluntarily skip the meal period;
  • An employee may not take the meal period at another time;
  • An employee may not return early, leave late or do any work during the meal period;
  • Non-compliant, independent employee action regarding their meal period creates a liability for the employer;
  • The conditions which permit an on-duty meal period are so rigidly interpreted that most workplaces which should appropriately permit on-duty meal periods do not qualify;
  • There is confusion over when the meal period should commence; and
  • As a result of a recent court challenge, a collective bargaining agreement does not supersede the statute (Bearden v. Borax).


Further, to avoid liability under these interpretations, some employers have had to discipline or discharge employees for not taking meal periods as directed.  Now, both employers and employees seek flexibility and clarity.

Prior efforts to develop legislative and regulatory solutions have been unsuccessful. This bill provides a comprehensive solution to provide employees with flexibility, clarify when an employer and employee can enter into an on-duty meal period agreement, and addresses collective bargaining agreements with respect to meal periods.

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