Is it a meal break violation in California if an employer does not permit employees to take meal breaks outside the work premises? “It might be,” says our Los Angeles wage and hour issues attorney at the Kaufman Law Firm. “But it is not that simple.”
If you are required by your employer to stay on the work premises during a meal break, it might a violation of California’s employment law. In 2017, the California Supreme Court held that employers cannot control how or where their employees spend rest breaks.
And while this makes perfect sense, you cannot sue your employer for NOT allowing you to leave the work premises during a meal break in 100 percent of all cases. This was the case when Taco Bell employees decided to file a class action lawsuit against the fast food restaurant.
In their Rodriguez v. Taco Bell Corp. a lawsuit, the employees alleged meal break violations arguing that Taco Bell did not allow its employees to leave the premises during rest breaks.
Our experienced wage and hour issues attorney in Los Angeles, who has personally reviewed the case, explains that Taco Bell offered its employees the option to purchase a discounted meal at the restaurant on one condition: they were not allowed to leave the premises and had to stay on the premises to eat it.
Taco Bell argued that this condition would prevent theft of discounted meals and abuse, as the restaurant’s employee could give discounted foods to third parties outside the premises. Purchasing a discounted Taco Bell meal was optional, and anyone who did not want to purchase it were permitted to leave the premises.
Many employees at Taco Bell were upset by the condition that they were not allowed to leave the premises if they purchased a discounted meal, which is why they joined forces and filed a class action lawsuit against the fast food restaurant alleging wage and hour violations.
The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of Taco Bell, finding the employees’ claim to be without merit and did not grant a trial. In their claim, the plaintiffs argued that Taco Bell should compensate for the time spent eating discounted meals on the premises as “work time,” because the employees who purchased the meals were subjected to the restaurant’s “control.”
In its ruling, the Ninth Circuit remanded the plaintiffs that the option to purchase a discounted meal and eat it on the premises was purely voluntary and optional, which is why Taco Bell did not violate any laws. If the employees wanted to leave the premises during a meal break, they simply should not have chosen to purchase a discounted meal offered by their employer.
However, just because the plaintiffs were not successful in their efforts to sue Taco Bell for alleged wage and hour violations, it does not mean that California courts reject all claims where plaintiffs sue their employers for not allowing them to leave the premises for meal breaks.
Our Los Angeles wage and hour issues attorney explains that under California law, it is unlawful for employers to impose any restraints on their employees’ rest periods. Your employer cannot require you stay on the work premises during a meal break, and it is an employer’s duty to permit and authorize employees to take off-duty rest periods and be free to leave the premises.
If you believe that your employer has violated your rights, do not hesitate to contact the Kaufman Law Firm to schedule a free consultation. Call our offices at 818-990-1999 or fill out this contact form today.