A company’s failure to provide the meal breaks that are required by law can give rise to PAGA penalties. In 2012, the California Supreme Court clarified some of the basic rules that apply to meal breaks in the seminal case of Brinker Restautant Corp. v. Superior Court (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1004. A recent case further clarifies how the rules regarding meal breaks apply to truck drivers in California.
In Driscoll v. Granite Rock Company (6th Appellate District, November 30, 2016, case no. H037662) the defendant was a concrete company that manufactures, delivers, and pours concrete. The defendant hired mixer drivers to deliver the concrete to customers such as home owners and contractors.
The defendant provided its drivers with a handbook that stated that they had the right to take a 30 minute off-duty meal break during which the drivers were not paid. The defendant also offered its drivers the opportunity to take an on-duty meal break-in other words, a meal break where the drivers kept working and kept getting paid. On-duty meal breaks are allowed only:
[W]hen the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty and when by written agreement between the parties an on-the-job paid meal period is agreed to.
Critically, such agreements must be revocable by the employee at any time. In Driscoll, the court found that the requirement of one day’s notice to revoke an on-duty meal break agreement violated the requirement that employees be able to revoke such an agreement at any time.
However, the court also found that no driver was ever denied an off-duty meal break if he or she requested it. Additionally, the defendant allowed drivers to revoke their on-duty meal break agreements as long as they gave at least one day’s notice. If drivers chose not to sign an on-duty meal break agreement, or revoked their agreement, and missed a meal break, they were paid one additional hour of pay.
Based on these facts, the court found that the drivers had failed to prove that the defendant violated the law with respect to meal breaks. Specifically, the court found that the drivers had not been forced or coerced into signing the on-duty meal period agreements against their will. The court also found that the defendant had not interfered with the drivers’ ability to take off-duty meal breaks.
After Driscoll, California drivers who are concerned about their meal breaks should ask the following questions:
- Does your employer have a policy that provides you with a 30 minute, uninterrupted, off-duty meal break if you work more than 5 hours, and a second meal break if you work more than 10 hours?
- Are you relieved of all duty during such breaks? If not, there may be a violation.
- Does your employer have control over you during your meal breaks? If so, there may be a violation.
- Does your employer do anything to interfere with your ability to take your meal breaks?
- For example, is your schedule too busy to take breaks? If so, there may be a violation.
- Does your employer discourage you from taking breaks? If so, there may be a violation.
- Have you signed an agreement to take on-duty meal breaks?
- Is there something about your industry that prevents you from being able to take off duty meal breaks? If not, there may be a violation.
- Can you revoke your off-duty meal break agreement at any time? If not, there may be a violation.
- Are you paid an extra hour of pay when you miss a meal break? If not, there may be a violation.
The Driscoll case also discusses how the practices of a particular industry may impact the legality of an employer’s meal breaks. In particular, the court found that the nature of the work (pouring concrete) made it more difficult to schedule off-duty meal breaks because freshly batched concrete must be poured within 60 to 90 minutes in order to insure its structural integrity. This made it reasonable for the defendant to offer on-duty meal breaks to its drivers.
If you have a question about your meal breaks and/or California’s Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”), feel free to contact Hunter Pyle Law for a free consultation. We can be reached at 510.444.4400, or firstname.lastname@example.org.