A recent headline noted “Jury awards Walmart workers more than $6 Million for Meal Break Violations.”  The jury found a mandatory security check prior to employees leaving Walmart’s fulfillment center in Chino actually discouraged employees from leaving the premises for meal breaks.  The security check was found to violate the corporation’s legal obligation to provide class members with required meal breaks.  While we expect Wal-Mart  to appeal the jury verdict does provide important clarification and insight for California and San Diego area employers.

The central theme of the case surrounded the mandatory security check prior to leaving the building.  Workers were given a 30 minute meal period and workers made the argument the mandatory security check prevented them from receiving the complete time required under California and federal law.  The Court in this case held that “California law imposes an affirmative obligation on employers to provide employees with meal breaks.”  Walmart had argued the law only prohibited employers from preventing workers from taking a 30 minute meal break.

How will this affect San Diego employers going forward?  Generally speaking, if and until this case is overturned on any subsequent appeal this verdict provides new guidelines on the requirement of a California employer to “provide” meal breaks, and to ensure these periods are free from any other work-related impediment or task.  Wage and hour cases are quite legally complex and the experienced employer defense attorneys at the Watkins Firm help to protect and defend our clients in these cases.

The original case cited in this situation is known as “Brinker.”  In Brinker, the California Supreme Court held an employer fulfills the requirement to provide meal breaks “if it relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities and permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so.”  53 Cal. 4th at 1040.

When a California jury awards Walmart workers more than $6 Million all San Diego employers must take note.  We invite you to contact Watkins Firm or call 858-535-1511 to help ensure compliance as an employer with all federal, state and local laws and ordinances.

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