Brinker: Amid Mixed Results, Clear Rest Break Victory for Workers

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As analysts and practitioners on both sides continue to digest last week’s sprawling Brinker decision from the California Supreme Court (Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Super. Ct., No. S166350 (Cal. Apr. 12, 2012), available here), the consensus is emerging that Brinker is a “mixed” result, with some of the newly-articulated doctrines more pleasing to the defense bar. However, amid the predominant air of compromise as to meal breaks and the requisites for class certification, workers can claim a clear, and surprising, victory on one particular issue: rest breaks. The defendant and its amicus supporters had argued that employees are entitled only to a single rest break in an 8-hour day, but the court categorically rejected this interpretation of the at-issue Labor Code and Wage Order provisions.

Indeed, it was as to rest breaks that the unanimous decision issued its strongest rebuke to the Court of Appeal opinion under review. “Employees are entitled to 10 minutes’ rest for shifts from three and one-half to six hours in length, 20 minutes for shifts of more than six hours up to 10 hours, 30 minutes for shifts of more than 10 hours up to 14 hours, and so on.” Slip op. at 20. Therefore, in the typical eight-hour shift, entitlement to a second rest break vests after six hours of work has passed and work on the seventh hour commences.

The employers’ “single rest break” theory was thus rejected, despite many observers having predicted that the rest break claim would be the most vulnerable. One tangible consequence of the ruling will be that many rest break class actions that had been either formally or informally stayed will now proceed, with the employer/defendants’ exposure on rest break claims now greater than during the protracted pre-Brinker phase.