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Employers Who Fail To Provide Meal and Rest Periods in California Beware

Aug 17, 2007
Recently the California Supreme Court rendered a decision in interpreting California Labor Code Section 226.7.

The issue was whether Labor Code section 226.7 provided for payment of one additional hour of pay when an employer failed to provide a meal break after five hours of work or a rest period after four hours of work and therefore it was pay and subject to a three year statute of limitations, meaning the employee could bring a claim three years after the fact, or if it was penalty and subject to a one year statute of limitations. In the case of Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc., the Supreme court addressed the issued.

In this case the Supreme Court summarized the facts as follows:

"John Paul Murphy worked as a store manager in a Kenneth Cole Productions (KCP) retail clothing store from June 2000 until June 19, 2002, during which he was paid a weekly salary. The store was open from 9:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Sunday. On a typical day, Murphy and another employee arrived around 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. to open the store. Between 9:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., Murphy did nothing other than make sales, receive or transfer product, process markdowns and clean."

"During a usual weekday afternoon, the second shift of either one or two people arrived at 1:00 p.m. The employee who had opened the store with Murphy would go to lunch, and Murphy and another employee would begin carrying merchandise into the stockroom while covering the sales floor. At some point, Murphy would go to the office to eat as he continued to work. By 2:00 p.m. he was either on the sales floor or working back in the stockroom. Murphy was scheduled to leave at 6:00 p.m., but he often would have customers on the sales floor, or would do some human resources paperwork."

"Murphy's duties when he worked the closing shift from noon until 8:00 p.m. were essentially the same as when he worked the opening shift. On most days, he was on the sales floor or in the stockroom from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. At 4:30 p.m. he would try to eat lunch while he checked KCP company voice mail and e-mail in the office, and then worked on the sales floor until closing time. After the store was closed, Murphy and a sales associate would verify the bank deposit, clean up the store, put shoes away, vacuum and empty the garbage. Typically, they would finish cleaning around 8:45 or 9:00 p.m."

"Murphy regularly worked 9- to 10-hour days, during which he was only able to take an uninterrupted, duty-free meal period approximately once every two weeks. He rarely, if ever, had the opportunity to take a rest period and, on occasion, was unable to go to the restroom."

Plaintiff Murphy resigned on June 19, 2002 and then filed a wage claim with the Labor Commissioner.
About eight months later the Labor Commissioner conducted a hearing and issued a decision in Murphy's favor and awarded unpaid overtime, interest, and waiting time penalties. KCP appealed it to Superior Court and plaintiff asserted claims for meal and rest period violations. The superior court permitted the additional claims.

The trial court awarded payment for missed meal and rest periods applying the three year statute of limitations under Code of Civil Procedure section 338. KCP appealed from the trail court judgment. The court of appeal held the statue of limitation is one year and that claims may not be raised for the first time on de novo appeal from an administrative hearing in front of the Labor Commissioner. The plaintiff appealed to California Supreme Court.
About the Author
Overtime and rest period violations attorney Arnold Hernandez can be reached at
San Diego Overtime Attorney Arnold Hernandez
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