Fact Sheet on proposed changes to meal period regulations

The proposed regulations relieve employers of responsibility. Current regulations make employers
responsible for providing a 30-minute unpaid meal period after six hours of work, or paying an hour of
wages for each missed lunch. Under this proposal, workers could be asked to waive their meal periods
and work up to ten hours without a meal break. Employers would only be responsible for posting a
notice of the right to a break, not for actually providing one.

Current law provides the necessary flexibility to balance the needs of employees and employers. The
law already allows lunch breaks to be waived by mutual consent for workers on shifts of fewer than six
hours. It also permits on-duty lunch breaks if required by the nature of the work and agreed to by the
employee.

A technical legal change in the proposed rules would save big corporations millions in pending litigation.
Now the hour of pay workers should get for every day of missed lunch breaks is defined as a “wage,”
and workers who leave a job can seek additional waiting time penalties of up to thirty days’ pay for any
wages that should have been paid at termination. Workers can pursue legal action against their
employers for up to three years’ missed wages.
The new regulations call the missed meal or rest break payments “penalties” instead of “wages.” This
means workers can only file claims for a year’s worth of missed breaks and must do so within a year of
their employer’s breaking the law. Furthermore, workers would no longer be able to seek waiting time
penalties as well as back wages. This proposal to shorten the statute of limitations by calling wages
“penalties” will reduce the liabilities of Wal-Mart and other big employers who have broken California
labor laws.

California workers already experience widespread abuse of their right to meal breaks, and these
regulations will only make it worse for the most vulnerable workers. Low-wage workers, immigrants,
young workers, and women often don’t get breaks under the current rules, and encounter big barriers
to getting justice through the legal system. The key issue is protection from employers who are
determined to cheat people out of breaks. Weakening the regulations further will encourage employers
to break the law with impunity. Allowing for meal periods to be waived puts workers at risk of being
understaffed or intimidated out of their meal periods.
By reducing the potential liability, the new rules will decrease the incentive for employers to settle
wage claims—and make it harder for workers to find lawyers to represent them.

Fake “emergency” regulations were drowned by public outcry. Schwarzenegger tried to sneak these
regulations through in December as “emergency” changes that wouldn’t be subject to public hearings.
The Office of Administrative Law (OAL) reported getting more public comment in five days right
before Christmas than it has on any other issue in its history. At the eleventh hour, the Governor
rescinded the emergency order and accepted a longer public comment process.

Open hearings will review proposals. Now the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) has
until March 2 to collect public comment on the proposed regulations. After March 2, DLSE may revise
the regulations and commence a new public comment process, rescind the proposals altogether, or
forward the regulations to OAL who would then have 30 days to reject or implement the rules.

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