Employers May Not Round Time for Meal Periods Under California Law

Employers May Not Round Time for Meal Periods Under California Law

On February 25, 2021, the California Supreme Court in Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC, addressed two questions relating to meal period claims brought as a class action under California law: whether an employer may properly round time punches for meal periods, and whether time records showing noncompliant meal periods raise a rebuttable presumption of meal period violations.

AMN had a well-written meal period policy that provided employees with 30-minute, duty-free meal periods beginning no later than the end of the fifth hour of work. Employees used their work desktop computers to punch in and out for the workday and for meal periods, but AMN’s electronic time keeping system rounded all time punches to the nearest 10-minute increment. For example, where a 23-minute lunch started at 11:02 a.m. and ended at 11:25 a.m., AMN’s time keeping system recorded such as a 30-minute lunch starting at 11:00 a.m. and ending at 11:30 a.m.

Given the precision of the time requirements in the Labor Code and in the Wage Orders for meal periods, and the requirement that one hour of premium pay be paid when an employee is not provided with a legally compliant meal period, the Donohue Court first held that employers cannot engage in the practice of rounding time punches in the meal period context. As to the Court’s second holding, since the law requires employers to keep accurate time records, if an employer’s records show missed, short, or delayed meal periods, a presumption of liability arises that it can rebut by presenting evidence that employees were compensated for noncompliant meal periods or that they had been provided with compliant meal periods during which they chose to work.