Collective Bargaining Agreement Legally Waived Meal Period

By Joanne Deschenaux August 21, 2018
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A collective bargaining agreement's (CBA's) waiver of a meal period for employees who worked six-hour shifts was enforceable, the California Court of Appeal ruled. A union may lawfully waive statutory rights of represented workers in a CBA if the waiver is "clear and unmistakable." This waiver met that standard, the court said.

Furthermore, the CBA provision was consistent with state law, which provides that an employee who works more than five hours is entitled to a meal break, "except that if the total work period per day of the employee is no more than six hours, the meal period may be waived by mutual consent of both the employer and employee."

Two supermarket cashiers sued their employer under the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), on behalf of all similarly situated employees, claiming that the company was violating California's mandatory meal-break requirement by denying a meal break to employees who worked six-hour shifts. The trial court ruled for the employer, and the employees appealed.

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

The union representing the supermarket employees had entered into a CBA with the company providing that employees who worked shifts of more than five hours were entitled to a 30-minute meal break, except that "when a work period of not more than six hours will complete a day's work, a meal period is not required."

When members of the union worked shifts of more than five but not more than six hours, they were denied a meal break. However, when they worked shifts of more than six hours, they were given a meal break.

Clear and Unmistakable Waiver

The appellate court noted that it is well settled that a union may waive statutory protections as long as the waiver is "clear and unmistakable." A waiver must do more than speak in broad, general language, the court said. It must be specific and must mention either the statutory protection being waived or, at a minimum, the statute itself.

The court rejected the employees' claim that the waiver in this case was not enforceable because it neither specified the exact provision of California law that was applicable nor used the word "waiver."

The waiver met the clear and unmistakable standard, the court said, because it specifically mentioned meal breaks—the statutory protection at issue.

Therefore, the appellate court upheld the trial court's ruling that the CBA legally waived the employees' right under California law to a meal break when working more than five hours but not more than six hours.

Ehret v. Winco Foods LLC, Calif. Ct. App., No. E067575 (Aug. 13, 2018).

Professional Pointer: This decision does not change the basic rule that an employee who works at least a six-hour shift is entitled to a meal break, and that right cannot be waived.

Joanne Deschenaux, J.D., is a freelance writer in Annapolis, Md. 

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