Posted 2 months ago - by

Reminder: California Meal Break Rules Prohibit Rounding

In 2021, the California Supreme Court made the decision to prohibit employers from rounding punch times to determine the start time and length of their employee’s required meal periods. Generally, California employees MUST receive a 30-minute unpaid meal break by the end of every five hours that they work. This decision focuses on simply preventing even minor infringements on meal period requirements. More importantly, employers can no longer round to determine when or how to calculate a California meal break to avoid meal rule violations.

Employees can waive the right to their meal break only if:

  • They work no more than six hours and;
  • a second break is provided after 10 hours.

Employees can also waive the second meal break:

  • If they work no more than 12 hours and;
  • the employee takes their proper meal break by the end of the fifth hour of work.

When employers fail to provide employees with a meal period per these regulations, the employee will receive one hour of regular pay for each meal period rule that is not followed. This hour is also known as a “meal premium”.

California Meal Break Rounding

The updated ruling focused on examining whether the previously neutral practice of rounding employees’ time-clock punches to the nearest 10-minute increment was indeed neutral to the current meal break requirements. Before the ruling, some employers’ timekeeping systems had a rounding option. For example, when an employee clocks in at 11:58 a.m. or 12:04 p.m., both times actually end up reading as 12:00 p.m.  As a result, meal periods as short as 21 minutes, and as long as 39 minutes, end up reading the same when they are not.

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 the choice to waive or shorten a meal period is voluntary on the employee’s part.

How can we help?

Given these rulings are here to stay, we recommend that California employers  evaluate their current time-keeping practices. Additionally, it is a good idea to consider implementing an option into their current time-keeping software that allows employees to record when they voluntarily opt out or shorten a meal break.

Employers that continue to round time punches should consider speaking with their trusted HR partners. Discussing these risks with a professional can help employers identify the risks that rounding may present them in the future.

Make sure your compensation calculations are accurate. Get your integrated and easy-to-scale payroll solutions from Payroll Systems. We offer a combination of software and human support for your business. Contact us to learn more about our highly scalable HR and payroll solutions.

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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.