State Law Penalties For Missed Meal, Breaks

By James Hatch

Jun. 15, 2007

John Paul Murphy, an employee of Kenneth Cole, an upscale retail clothing chain, filed a complaint with the California Labor Commissioner for missed meal and rest periods and unpaid overtime. California law provides, in Labor Code 226.7, that if an employer fails to provide a meal or rest period, the employer must pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular pay rate for each day the meal or break is not provided.

Kenneth Cole appealed, raising issues regarding Murphy’s workplace classification—that he was a nonexempt employee, and that payments for meal and rest break violations were a penalty rather than a wage, and thus Murphy’s claims were barred by the applicable one-year statute of limitations.

The California Supreme Court unanimously held that the remedy provided in Labor Code 226.7 constitutes a wage or premium pay that is governed by a three-year statute of limitations, as opposed to a one-year statute of limitations for penalties.

The Supreme Court noted that meal periods and rest breaks “have long been viewed as part of the remedial worker protection framework” and that “due to a lack of employer compliance, the [Industrial Welfare Commission] added a pay remedy to the wage orders” for such violations. Therefore, “payment owed pursuant to section 226.7 is akin to an employee’s immediate entitlement to payment of wages or for overtime.” Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Productions Inc., 40 Cal. 4th, 1094 (4/16/07).

Impact: The court’s decision underscores the importance of ensuring that employers’ meal and rest break policies comply with applicable law, as well as the importance of ensuring those policies are being followed by all employees.

Workforce Management, May 21, 2007, p. 6Subscribe Now!

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