Employer’s Meal Period Policy That Does Not Comply With California Law Results in Liability Under PAGA

Employer’s Meal Period Policy That Does Not Comply With California Law Results in Liability Under PAGA

A decision published by a California court of appeal on December 19, 2018 in Carrington v. Starbucks Corp. again demonstrates how critical it is that employers have a well-written meal period policy in place that conforms to the law. A barista who worked at Starbucks for less than five months alleged that she had not received duty free meal periods before working more than five hours on at least two occasions. Claiming that she did not receive premium payments for the late meal periods, and that her pay stubs were inaccurate, the plaintiff brought a representative action under the Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”) and sought nearly $70 million in total penalties.

Starbucks’ meal period policy stated that a meal period payment would not be provided where an employee worked “slightly more than 5 hours.” The Carrington court held that Starbucks’ policy/practice violated California law because it “failed to provide a Meal Period prior to the end of an employee’s first five hours of employment.” Noting that Starbucks had made “good faith efforts” to comply with the meal period law, and that the violations were “minimal,” the court of appeal affirmed the lower court’s award of a $150,000 penalty under PAGA.