Employees Can Recover At Least Two Hours Per Day For Missed Meal and Rest Breaks -- United Parcel Service v. Superior Court

If anyone were to present an award for the statute that has created the most interpretation issues per word, the meal and rest break provision of Labor Code section 226.7 would have to be a finalist. 

The first big issue was how to characterize the one-hour of additional wages provided by the statute.  This was finally settled by the California Supreme Court's Murphy v. Kenneth Cole decision, holding that this amount was a premium "wage" akin to premium overtime pay.  The next high-profile dispute was the extent to which an employer must take affirmative steps to "provide" breaks in order to avoid the penalty/premium wage payments required by the statue.  This is the subject of the pending Brinker case.

Another long-festering interpretation issue (which is also likely to eventually end up before the Supreme Court), is the number of penalty/premium wage payments that an employee may accrue in a single day under Section 226.7.   The Second District Court of Appeal confronted this damages question head on in United Parcel Service v. Superior Court.  It is probably not worth recounting the blow-by-blow statutory construction analysis used by the Court but the bottom line is that employees may recover two penalties per day:

In short, we conclude, based upon the wording of section 226.7, subdivision (b), the legislative and administrative history of the statute and IWC wage orders, the public policy behind the statute and wage orders, and also the principle that we are to construe section 266.7 broadly in favor of protecting employees, that the employees in this case may recover up to two additional hours of pay on a single work day for meal period and rest period violations-one for failure to provide a meal period and another for failure to provide a rest period.

The take-away for employers is that it more important than ever to have an effective break policy, as the potential liability has now been effectively doubled.

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