Word came down late yesterday about an important case for employers that have California-based employees. 

The case, Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Hohnbaum, is the first California appellate case to rule on the parameters of employers’ duties under California laws requiring rest and meal periods.  The California Workforce Resource Blog has the details, as does the What’s New in Employment Law Blog.  For an employee-based perspective, the Wage Law blog also has a good summary as well.

Why do I bring this up in a Connecticut blog? For a few reasons. First, there are several Connecticut employers that have California employees, whether through sales or otherwise. Second, California tends to be on the cutting edge of some legal issues. With nearly 36 million people (or roughly 10 times the population of Connecticut), those issues just tend to pop up more than in a small state like Connecticut.courtesy library of congress (flickr) - workers circa 1943

Third, the case provides a good opportunity to highlight the Connecticut meal period law — an underappreciated law that lays out what is necessary and is much different than California.

Connecticut’s law is found at Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-51i and states:

(a) No person shall be required to work for seven and one-half or more consecutive hours without a period of at least thirty consecutive minutes for a meal. Such period shall be given at some time after the first two hours of work and before the last two hours.

In plain English, what this means is that if an employee works a 7 1/2 hour shift, they are required to be given a 30-minute break for a meal.  For an employee working 9-5, the meal period must be between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

There are exemptions to requiring this meal period but, for the most part, it’s going to be good business practice to allow for the meal period anyways.  However, there may be instances where a break is not feasible. The Labor Department recognizes an exemption if one of the following conditions is met:

  1. complying with this requirement would endanger public safety;
  2. the duties of the position can only be performed by one employee;
  3. the employer employs less than 5 employees on that shift at that one business location (this only applies to that particular shift); or,
  4. the employer’s operation requires that employees be available to respond to urgent conditions, and that the employees are compensated for the meal period.

Note that this meal period applies to both exempt and non-exempt workers.  Employers who do not comply can be subject to some civil penalties.  While the law talks about a meal period, there is no requirement for a "rest" period in addition to this meal period. 

As others will surely note, each state has their own rules on meal period and breaks. Employers should not assume that what will work for one state, will work for another.  In Connecticut, the rules are not particularly onerous for employers and certainly all efforts should be made to comply with these particular rules.  

Photo courtesy Library of Congress , circa 1943 Clinton, Iowa