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California’s Supreme Court Rules on Rounding Time Punches for Meal Periods

California’s Supreme Court Rules on Rounding Time Punches for Meal Periods

Posted: March 22, 2021 | News

On February 25, 2020, the Supreme Court of California issued its unanimous decision in Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC.  The court case resolved two important questions regarding meal periods: (1) whether it is acceptable to round meal period punch times and (2) whether missed, late, or short meal periods raise questions of non-compliance and other stages of litigation.

Rounding Time Punches

Rounding of time punches for meal periods has been a common timekeeping practice.  The employer, Donohue, rounded all employee meal times to the nearest 10-minute increment.  Because of this, if an employee punched out at 12:03 p.m. and punched back in at 12:27 p.m., the timekeeping system would recognize the lunch period as 30-minutes (even though only 24 minutes had elapsed). In addition, if an employee’s time punch recognizes that a meal was missed, shorter than 30 minutes or late, the timekeeping system would require the employee to provide reasoning, whether it was the employee’s own choice or the press of work. As a result of only providing these two options, if an employee chooses “press of work,” the employer would credit the employee with an additional hour of pay at regular compensation.

Although the Supreme Court did recognize that time-rounding was allowed under federal law, the court decided that rounding may not be applied to meal periods. In fact, the California Labor Code “requir[es] premium pay for any violation [of the timing requirements], no matter how minor.”  As a result of this, the court described that “[a] premium pay scheme that discourages employers from infringing on meal periods by even a few minutes, cannot be reconciled with a policy that counts those minutes as negligible rounding errors.” The courts supported this finding by describing that there would be “health and safety concerns” with meal period requirements that “distinguish the meal period context from the wage calculation context, in which the practice of rounding time punches was developed,” and “even relatively minor infringements on meal periods can cause substantial burdens to the employee.” 

Overall, the Supreme Court in California concluded that employers must refrain from rounding meal break punches and that the timekeeping system must have accurate tracking from start to end times.  In addition, the courts want employers to implement a timekeeping system that flags short, late or missed meal breaks as well as reasons for the deviation. 

At North & Nash LLP, our experienced lawyers are available to assist employers in understanding their legal rights and duties.  We counsel businesses on a wide variety of legal issues including employment and labor law defense. Please contact us for guidance in helping your company stay in compliance with these new regulations at https://www.north-nash.com/connect.

Author: Partners at North & Nash LLP

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