Attention Employers: California’s High Court Has Nixed Rounding Meal Breaks

When is a 30-minute lunch break a 30-minute lunch break?

Certain employers have made it a practice of rounding time—up or down, typically in five- to 15-minute increments—in lieu of recording the actual time that employees spend working or for meal breaks. Until now, California law has generally permitted rounding time, provided certain criteria are met. For instance, an employer’s rounding policy must be fair and neutral on its face and cannot systematically undercompensate employees over a period of time.

While rounding time is still permitted at the start and end of a shift (though this is not without its own challenges), the California Supreme Court has just ruled that rounding time for meal breaks is unlawful.

In a class action case called Donohue v. AMN Services, the high court determined that state law imposes "precise time requirements" for meal breaks, and shaving off (or even adding) a few minutes here or there is contrary to the "precision" required by statute. Translation: employers must accurately track employee meal breaks to ensure that they are being given the full 30 minutes California law allots to them.

In the aftermath of this decision, employers may need to change their timekeeping practices, as “even minor infringements on meal period requirements” are disallowed and can subject an offending employer to significant damages. Employers must also understand that even where rounding time may be permitted at the start and end of an employee’s shift, this is an area of wage and hour law that remains heavily litigated, by way of class and representative actions.

Should you have any questions about wage and hour issues such as rounding time or other employment-related matters, the employment lawyers at Michelman & Robinson, LLP are here to help.

This blog post is not offered, and should not be relied on, as legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.