Wage/Hour Meal Break Issue Up for Grabs in California

The wage/hour meal break issue of how to catagorize damages in such cases is really hitting the fan in California this month.

The issue is whether Section 226.7 of the California Labor Code imposes a penalty on employers that fail to ensure mandated meal breaks are provided to employees or whether the payments should be treated as wages. Under California law, employees are required to provide a 30-minute meal break to employees who work more than five hours a day and a second 30-minute meal break to those working more than 10 hours a day.

The distinction is an important one under California law. If the disallowed meal breaks are subject to penalties, the applicable statute of limitations is 1 year. If they are wages, employees may seek back payments for the prior 4 years.

Two cases from two different appellate districts within a week of each other this month have created a clear split among the California appeals courts:Mills v. LA Superior Court, 1/27/06 (2nd District) - Holds they are penalties.National Steel and Shipbuilding v. Superior Court, 1/20/06 (4th District) - Says they are wages.

Hopefully, the California Supreme Court will take up the issue soon and resolve the issue. If they do so, it would likely be in Murpy v. Kenneth Cole Productions, 12/2/05 (1st District) - also holding the provision to be a penalty provision. A petition for review was filed in that case was filed on 1/11/06.

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