In Re Walgreen Co. Overtime Cases, 231 Cal. App. 4th 437, 180 Cal. Rptr. 3d 38 (2014)

Evaluating Whether Employers Have a Duty to Provide Employees with Meal Breaks

A recent decision put at issue the question as to whether employers have an affirmative duty pursuant to labor and wage and hour regulations, to provide employees with meal breaks. In the case of Re Walgreen Co. Overtime Cases, 231 Cal. App. 4th 437, 180 Cal. Rptr. 3d 38 (2014), the Court assessed this very issue, and determined that although employers do have a duty to provide meal breaks for employees, there duty ends there, and they have no further duty to actually insuring that employees actually take them.

A very contentious issues involving wage and hour litigation, has been the extent by which employers are required to provide employees with meal breaks, whether meal breaks are compensable, and whether such requirements differ with respect to part and full time workers. Meal breaks provide a challenge for employers, especially where arguably, employees are still acting, working, and otherwise still within the scope of the employment relationship when taking such meal breaks. Additionally, is the perspective by employers that meal breaks are an essential aspect of worker productivity, satisfaction, and especially during long-shifts, are provided consistent with fair labor standards.

In this particular case, Plaintiffs sought class certification with respect to Walgreen’s employment policy related to employee meal breaks, arguing in relevant part that although Walgreen’s policy did provide employees meal breaks, that the way in which policy was applied had the net effect of actually denying employees to actual benefit and otherwise use such meal breaks. For instance, Plaintiffs provided evidence that because of scheduling, work product, supervisor approval, and employee time constraints, that although meal breaks were available to employees, that because of the work environment and circumstances involved, they were constructively being denied such opportunity. In other words, Plaintiffs contended that Defendant was intentionally seeking to interfere with, deny, and otherwise make it nearly impossible for employees to actually use or benefit from such meal breaks. The trial court in this case, did not find Plaintiffs’ arguments persuasive and as a result, refused to extend class certification to this case.

Basis of Appeal

Reiterating the same arguments at the trial court level, Plaintiffs sought to appeal to the California Court of Appeals, again emphasizing that that the way in which Defendant was actually applying its meal break policy was in essence a violation of fair labor laws and regulations, since the net effect was to actually preclude its employees from doing so. The California Court of Appeals, in affirming the trial court’s determine held similarly that the duty of employers to provide meal breaks or employing a meal break policy is clear, that a duty exists, but that employers do not have a duty to insure that each and every one of its employees take advantage and otherwise use such meal breaks. The Court reasoned that for purposes of class certification, there is a myriad of reasons, excuses, and other circumstances wherein an employee may individually choose or not to choose to take advantage of a company’s meal break policy, and as such, that there is no substantive basis for class certification especially where there is not a clear commonality of facts across the class. Additionally, the Court found that to determine an employer’s liability regarding a violation of such meal break policies, that every single class member employee would have to be interviewed, to see the specific reasons he or she may not have used such meal breaks. The Court found here, that where an employee was free to take such a meal break, and chose not to do so, that there could not be a employment violation under such circumstances. The Court also found in this case, that Plaintiff’s own liability statistician has not adequately evaluated each and every one of the class members reasons for not taking a meal break and in so doing, had actually assumed that each time an employee failed to take a meal break, that there was a per se employment related violation. Even more compelling for the Court, was the fact that a number of employees actually recanted, changed, and otherwise modified their affidavits describing the basis for why they allegedly claimed to have been denied a meal break, and as such, the Court found substantive credibility issues with the class members that had been proffered in this regard. This case is a good example, where employment violations, may not necessarily be suited for class certification, especially where there may be individualized facts and circumstances that heavily weigh against class wide treatment.

If you have any employment-related dispute and are considering suing your employer for wage and hour claims,contact the Orange County Employment Lawyers at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside, and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.