Calif. appeals court rules health care providers OK to allow employees to waive meal breaks

By Charmaine Little | Mar 30, 2017

SANTA ANA, Calif. (Legal Newsline) – Workers hoping to hit their employer with a class action over meal breaks have been dealt an adverse ruling by a California appeals court.

On March 1, the 4th Appellate District of the state of California affirmed summary judgment in a lawsuit over whether the Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center violated labor code violations when it allowed employees who worked more than 12-hour shifts to waive their second meal.

A law states that employees who work more than 12-hour shifts must take two meal breaks. However, the Industrial Welfare Commission says employees who work in health care are allowed to waive one of the meal breaks if they work more than eight hours.

The court first decided that the IWC law was unacceptable and sided with the plaintiffs (Jazmina Gerard, Kristiane McElroy and Jeffery Carl) stating, “the IWC order is partially invalid to the extent it authorizes second meal break waivers.”

The California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the hospital and sent the case back to the district court, which led to this current opinion.

“Upon reconsideration we conclude the IWC order is valid and affirm,” the court states.

The re-examination came as one hospital rule lets employees who work more than 10 hours, including more than 12 hours, waive one of their meal periods. The plaintiffs said they did “occasionally” work more than 12 hours and signed the waiver and thus were not given the second meal. But the plaintiffs alleged the hospital was not allowed to even have offered the waiver under the labor code laws.

The hospital offered a defense: “Plaintiffs’ claim for an alleged failure to provide meal periods fails because defendant utilized valid meal period waivers,” and moved for summary judgment.

The court acknowledged that it “erred” in its first ruling for the plaintiffs because it originally concluded that section 11(D) of Wage Order No. 5, which was adopted on June 30, 2000, and went into effect Oct. 1, 2000, states, “Notwithstanding any other provision of this order, employees in the health care industry who work shifts in excess of eight (8) total hours in a workday may voluntarily waive their right to one of their two meal periods” did not line up with section 512(a) of the Labor Code.

That law was adopted in 1999 and went into effect on Jan 1, 2000, and states, “An employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than 10 hours per day without providing the employee with a second meal period of not less than 30 minutes, except that if the total hours worked is no more than 12 hours, the second meal period may be waived by mutual consent of the employer and the employee only if the first meal period was not waived.”

It also initially said the IWC did not have the authority to enact 11(D) because it went beyond what was allowed on 512(a).

Still, the court changed its position and states, “However, in reaching this conclusion we failed to account for a subtle but critical distinction in administrative law–the date an agency regulation or order is adopted is not the same as the date it becomes effective.”

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