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Meal Break Compliance Updates for California Practice Owners

Lauren Walchek
Posted by Lauren Walchek on November 16, 2021

Meal break compliance is a law that allows employees to receive adequate break time for their hours worked. Recently, some changes were enacted to this particular legislature. As an employer, you should brush up on employment and legal rulings to ensure you’re offering your team what they’re legally entitled to and protecting your practice from lawsuits.

Keep reading to find out exactly what the meal break compliance law is about, how it has recently changed, and how to stay compliant with this latest update.

Meal Break Compliance Updates for CA Practice Owners

What Is the CA Meal Break Compliance Law?

According to California Labor Law, employees must be granted a break period no later than the end of the fifth hour of a shift five to nine hours long. If the employee is working a 10-hour shift or longer, they must also be granted a second meal period throughout the shift. This ensures all employees are working under fair conditions.

In the event that employers did not comply with the CA meal break compliance law, they would be hit with a non-compliance penalty. This means the employer would’ve been required to pay the employee a premium wage, which is essentially one hour of pay, for every missed meal period. However, there have been some amendments to the CA meal compliance law you’ll need to know about.

Why Did the CA Meal Compliance Law Change?

In the case of Ferra v. Loews Hollywood Hotel LLC, the defendant filed a class-action lawsuit against the employer and argued that non-discretionary payments  should be factored into the rate of pay for employees when they incur overtime. In light of this lawsuit, the court had to assess and make changes to the legislation. Though the court did not entirely side with Ferra, some changes to the CA meal compliance law were enacted. When labor laws are changed, all employers are required to comply.

The Court Ruling of the CA Meal Compliance Law

Meal Break Compliance Updates for CA Practice Owners

Under the California Supreme Court ruling, it was decided that the meal break time must be accurately monitored and never rounded, and non-discretionary payments or incentives should be factored into the employee’s  rate of pay. The court also ruled that employees would be paid for missed breaks by a calculation that includes non-discretionary payments instead of their base pay alone. The newly amended CA meal compliance law is also retroactive, which means employees may want to glance back at previously paid penalties to learn what they are entitled to. As an employer, you may want to consult with legal counsel to determine what options are available to you.

If you don’t have access to legal counsel, HR for Health can help ensure total compliance year round with our dedicated HR tools and free resources. Reach out to us to start protecting your practice today.

The History of the CA Meal Compliance Law

In the past, employers could round up the time for a meal break period. If an employee only took 22 minutes, it may be rounded to 30. The new law prohibits rounding up the time. The reason for this is that it infringes on the employee’s right to a full 30-minute break. If the employee is asked to take less time, the remaining time from the break period will now be compensated. Whether you’re operating a veterinary clinic, optometry practice, dental clinic, or any other medical practice, it is important to ensure you are adhering to the new law.

How to Handle the New CA Meal Break Compliance Changes

As a practice owner, you will have to ensure that you and your team are up to date on the new regulations to avoid any complaints or penalties. This also ensures your team is happy, and the working environment remains an enjoyable, peaceful, and calm space for everyone. Here are a few things you can do to ensure you keep your practice running smoothly:

Clarify the Details

Make sure your employee handbook clearly outlines the details of the CA meal compliance law and its recent changes. You should clearly indicate what your employees can expect. This can help prevent workplace disagreements among your team. Be sure to announce the changes to your team in a team meeting, update and distribute a revised handbook and require a signature from your employees as an acknowledgment that they are agreeing to all policies in the updated handbook

Ensure Break Periods Are Respected

Meal Break Compliance Updates for CA Practice Owners

You should ensure that your employees are all taking their full 30-minute breaks. Do not encourage them to take a few minutes less or to begin their meal break later than the end of the fifth hour of work, no matter how busy your practice may be that day. These incidents of non-compliance cost you and the penalties can quickly add up. When you prepare staff schedules, account for adequate break time to ensure you always have enough team members working when it’s needed the most. 

Make Sure You’re Paying Correctly

There have been changes to the compensation rates and penalty costs. Prior to this ruling, penalty compensation was equal to one hour of base pay per violation. Penalty compensation now includes base pay plus overtime and nondiscretionary calculation per violation. These changes are retroactive, so it may be helpful to consult with proper legal counsel to ensure you have met all the new requirements and your employees have received the correct payouts. For example, rounding break times can be costly for you, and goes against the new meal compliance law as stipulated under the California Labor Law. Investing in legal counsel today can save you much more in the long run.

Invest in Proper Timekeeping Software

At HR for Health, our job is to make it simple and easy for you to manage your practice all while remaining compliant with the latest local, federal, and state regulations. Our timekeeping software can help you manage and monitor employee break periods as well as help you calculate the correct premiums for a missed break and/or meal period.

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