Off-Duty, and On-Duty, Meal Periods Must be at Least 30 Minutes

Off-Duty, and On-Duty, Meal Periods Must be at Least 30 Minutes

On July 31, 2019, a court of appeal in L’Chaim House, Inc. v. Division of Labor Standards Enforcement held that employers in the public housekeeping industry covered by Wage Order No. 5 must provide meal periods of at least 30 minutes to their employees, regardless of whether the meal periods are on-duty or off-duty. The employer appealed an administrative decision of the DLSE awarding approximately $89,000 in premium-pay and penalty assessments for its failure to provide 30-minute meal periods to its employees. The trial court rejected the employer’s contention that on-duty meal periods did not have to be least 30 minutes long.

The court in L’Chaim began its analysis by explaining the difference between duty-free 30-minute meal periods, and an “on-duty meal period” which is permitted only under limited circumstances. Stating that “on-duty meal periods are an intermediate category requiring more of employees than off-duty meal periods but less of employees than their normal work,” the appellate court in L’Chaim agreed with the trial judge that even if the employees were not entitled to an uninterrupted meal period, they must “at least be afforded 30 minutes of limited duty enabling them to eat their meal in relative peace.” In a separate concurrence, one justice highlighted “the complexity of, and extreme factual specificity of, what will constitute an adequate 30-minute on-duty meal period in any particular context.”