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California Now Prohibits Meal Break Rounding

The California Supreme Court recently announced that employers can no longer round time-clock punches for employee meal periods. Generally, California employees MUST receive a 30-minute unpaid meal break for every five hours that they work. The decision to end rounding of hours is focused on simply preventing even minor infringements on meal period requirements.

As it stands, employees can waive the right to their meal break only if they work no more than six hours and a second break must be provided after 10 hours. This second meal break may also be waived if they work no more than 12 hours. If an employer fails to provide the employee with a meal period per these regulations, then the employee is entitled to one hour of pay for each meal period rule that was not followed. This hour is referred to as a “meal premium”.

The recent ruling focused on examining whether the previously neutral practice of rounding employee’s time-clock punches to the nearest 10-minute increment was indeed neutral to the current meal break requirements. Before the ruling, some employer’s timekeeping systems allowed for rounding which meant that if an employee clocked in at 11:58 a.m. or 12:04 p.m., both times would be clocked in at 12:00 p.m. As a result, meal periods that were as short as 21 minutes and as long as 39 minutes, would be recorded the same.

Additionally, the court held that any records that show there have been ANY non-compliant meal periods can call for meal period violations. This means employers should focus on keeping accurate records of employee hours going forward to prove compliance in the event necessary.

While the court has emphasized that employers do not need to police meal breaks, employers should provide employees with an accurate way to track their time. Similarly, it is now the employer’s burden to prove that if a meal period was waived or shortened, it was a voluntary choice by the employee.

It’s recommended that California employers not only evaluate their current time-keeping practices considering these new rulings but also consider implementing an option into their current time-keeping software or system where employees can record when they have voluntarily opted-out or shortened a meal break.

Employers that continue to round time punches should consider speaking with their trusted HR partners or team to discuss the risks that rounding may present them in the future.

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This article provides general information and shouldn’t be construed as legal or HR advice. Since employment laws may change over time and can vary by location and industry, please consult a lawyer or HR expert for advice specific to your business. You can also contact Payroll Systems to inquire about our HR support services.