Court Finds Employer’s Meal Period Policy Appropriate Under the Circumstances

Court Finds Employer’s Meal Period Policy Appropriate Under the Circumstances

by Susana P. Solano,, Esq.

In Driscoll v. Granite Rock (2016) —Cal.Rptr.3d—, following a bench trial of a certified class action alleging the employer failed to provide concrete mixer drivers off-duty meal periods and pay a meal period premium when the drivers opted to work during a meal period, the trial court returned a verdict in favor of the employer. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment.

On appeal the plaintiffs argued the defendant did not relieve them from all duty or relinquish all employer control, and that the policy of making off-duty meal periods available at the request of the drivers was not enough to satisfy the employer’s legal obligation under Brinker. The plaintiffs were signatory to an on-duty meal period, which was revocable with a one-day notice. The trial evidence demonstrated that employees acknowledged reviewing a legally compliant employee handbook containing information about the availability and right to a 30 minute off-duty meal period, the employer posted the applicable Wage Order and other mandatory postings at each branch advising employees of their meal period right, no evidence showed that any driver was ever denied an off-duty meal period when he or she requested one, and drivers who did not sign or who revoked the off-duty meal period were paid a meal period premium.

Without addressing the issue of whether the meal period agreement was invalid, as the trial court had previously found, the Court of Appeal held that the employer’s meal period policies were particularly appropriate in the context of the ready mix concrete industry, where scheduling off-duty meal periods in advance was nearly impossible due to state of the concrete in the driver’s truck and the nature of the construction job at hand. The Court held that the employer’s policy of providing an off-duty meal period each day and allowing employees to choose to take such at their discretion is consistent with the holding in Brinker.

This case emphasizes the importance of employers having and following written meal period policies that comply with California law. The evidence of payments of meal period premiums was significant in demonstrating the employer consistently made meal periods available or paid meal period premiums. The holding in this case is arguably limited to the ready mix concrete industry or similar industries.