Carve-out from Meal Period laws

By CMTA Staff

Capitol Update, March 16, 2012

For the past few years industries such as trucking, utilities and security guards have attempted, without success, to pass legislation to exempt them from the labor code meal period rules. CMTA has opposed these attempts, instead supporting a comprehensive solution that would serve employers and employees across all industries regardless of size or union status. The labor code should be reformed to provide all employees with flexibility, clarify when an employer and employee could enter into an on-duty meal period agreement, and address collective bargaining agreements for meal periods.

Existing law requires all employers to provide employees at least a 30-minute unpaid meal period commencing prior to the sixth hour of work. Employers are liable for back wages if an employee chooses not to take their meal period exactly as the law indicates or if the employee is not relieved of all duties during their 30 minute break. Various labor code sections, opinion letters from the Labor Commissioner, Industrial Welfare Commission wage orders, and a hodge-podge of case law are often in conflict, making it very difficult to comply. A pending Supreme Court decision could help define the extent of an employer’s obligation to “provide” a meal period, but other issues remain. This confusion robs employees of flexibility and enriches trial attorneys by providing a steady source of profitable lawsuits. 

This year Assemblyman Dan Logue (R-Chico) introduced AB 2176 to provide a meal period exemption for drivers of hazardous materials. It is hard to argue that employees who haul these materials should not have the flexibility to take meal breaks when and where it is most appropriate, taking into consideration the type of materials they are transporting and the risk they pose. But this is also true for employees who are monitoring the operation of highly complex and potentially dangerous manufacturing processes and are continuously “on-call” to respond to emergencies and maintain safe operations.

AB 2176 will be heard in Assembly Labor and Employment Committee on March 28. CMTA has not yet taken a position on the bill.

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