California Apple Employees Get $2 Million for Meal Break Claims

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A jury recently found that Apple Inc. failed to provide nonexempt retail workers in California with timely meal breaks—which cost the company $2 million.

With a few exceptions, California law requires employers to provide nonexempt employees with at least a 30-minute unpaid meal break for each five-hour period worked.

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What are the meal and rest break requirements for California employees?]

"In general, when an employee works for a work period of more than five hours, a meal period must be provided no later than the end of the employee's fifth hour of work (in other words, no later than the start of the employee's sixth hour of work)," according to the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) website.

Employees can choose to waive their first meal period if they work no more than six hours. A second meal break after 10 hours of work may be waived if employees work no more than 12 hours and also took their first break.

Brandon Felczer and three other former Apple employees in California filed a class-action complaint asserting various state-law wage and hour violations, including that Apple required them to work more than five hours without a meal break.

Felczer and the other plaintiffs said they didn't waive their right to take their meal breaks, according to papers filed with the California Superior Court in San Diego.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of the employees on this issue, finding that the tech company had a uniform scheduling practice that failed to allow retail employees to take their meal break by the start of their sixth hour worked.

There are other issues in the case that have yet to be decided.

The case is Felczer v. Apple Inc., No. 37-2011-00102593, Cal. Super. Ct. (special verdict form filed on Dec. 9, 2016).

Required Breaks

The Fair Labor Standards Act doesn't require employers to provide meal or rest breaks. However, if an employer opts to offer a short (5- to 20-minute) "coffee" break, it must be paid. The U.S. Department of Labor says that meal breaks lasting at least 30 minutes serve a different purpose and don't have to be paid.

California employers must note, however, that the state has strict requirements for providing nonexempt workers with breaks.

In addition to the meal-break requirements described above, employees generally must be offered a paid 10-minute break for every 4-hour work period. And those rest periods must be uninterrupted, according to a recent California Supreme Court ruling.

Meal breaks in the Golden State don't have to be paid unless the worker is on-duty or required to stay onsite.

The DIR website notes that on-duty meal breaks are only permitted in certain circumstances. As examples, the DIR said a sole worker in a coffee kiosk or an all-night convenience store or a security guard working alone at a remote site may agree (in writing) to an on-duty meal period.

An important point for employers: Violations of the state's meal and rest period laws can result in substantial penalties. An employer must provide employees with one hour of pay at their regular rate for each workday that a proper meal or rest period isn't provided.

 

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