Labor Code Protections Do Not Apply To Government Employees -- California Correctional Peace Officers Assoc. v. State of California

In California Correctional Peace Officers' Association v. State of California, the correctional officers union brought a class action against the state of California alleging that they were entitled to penalties for missed meal periods under Labor Code section 226.7

The meal period requirement does not explicitly exclude public sector employees and the plaintiffs argued that this indicated an intent to cover all employees -- both public and private.  The Appellate Court held that plaintiffs arguments about alleged legislative intent were trumped by a more general presumption that the Labor Code does not apply to government employees:

 This argument runs contrary to well-established principles of statutory construction. Our Supreme Court has noted: “A traditional rule of statutory construction is that, absent express words to the contrary, governmental agencies are not included within the general words of a statute.” The Legislature has acknowledged that this rule applies to the Labor Code.

Government employees should be aware, however, that they are still protected by the federal Federal Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA").  Although the FLSA contains no requirement to provide meal periods, its core protections are largely the same as under state law.  Thus, California state and local employees may sue under the FLSA for violations, including:

  • Failure to pay overtime for all hours worked over 40 in a week.
  • Failure to pay for all hours actually worked, including time spent working during unpaid lunch breaks, at home, or "off-the-clock" outside of regular shift times.
  • Failure to timely pay the full amount of all wages earned on each pay period.     

Special rules apply to the calculation of minimum wage and overtime for certain police and fire employees.  But state and local employees who believe they are being shortchanged may discover that they have a remedy under federal law.

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