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California Supreme Court Ruling on State Meal Period Law is ‘Half A Loaf’ for Trucking

Posted: 4/17/2012

San Francisco – April 13th’s long-awaited decision of the California Supreme Court in Brinker v. Superior Court, No. S166350, almost certainly means that, without relief from federal courts or the California Legislature, California Truck drivers will still have to take 30-minute meal period within the first five hours without regard to traffic conditions or the availability of locations to legally pull off the road.

“For California highly-skilled truck drivers, these rules create daily challenges from a highway safety standpoint,” said Michael Shaw, Vice President, External Affairs, of the California Trucking Association (CTA). “Responsible trucking companies already know the value of ensuring drivers are properly rested and allowed time to eat. Trucking companies already comply with strict federal laws that were recently amended to increase time to rest. The California rules at issue in the Brinker case only make highway safety harder to achieve,” Shaw added.

The Court in the Brinker decision did reject the plaintiffs’ view that employers must “ensure” that employees do no work during a required meal break. Specifically, the Court declared (p. 36) that, “The employer satisfies this [Meal Break] obligation if it relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities and permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so.”

Shaw said, “It’s helpful to trucking that the Court concluded that, “What will suffice may vary from industry to industry…” But Shaw added that “the Court’s decision means that trucking companies will still have to ‘provide’ drivers with off-duty meal breaks at set times. This will strait-jacket truckers and jeopardize highway safety by requiring them to pull off the road to take off-duty 30-minute meal breaks at rigid times set by the meal and rest break rules, regardless of traffic and other road conditions.”

The decision, which covers non-exempt employees in all industries who perform work in California, interpreted the State’s meal and rest period rules to require employers must provide an opportunity for a 30-minute meal period within the first 5 hours of work each day and, if the employee works another 5 hours that day, a second such break within the second 5 hours.

The decision also held that the employer must provide 10-minute rest breaks generally every four hours, but need not ensure that a rest break precede a meal break.

Shaw said, “Today’s Brinker decision makes clear that the California meal and rest period rules have an impermissible effect on motor carriers’ prices, routes, and services and are clearly preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAAA).” More than one California Federal Court has already declared the rules to be preempted by the FAAAA, including Dilts v. Penske Logistics, N0. 08-CV-318 JLS (S.D. Cal. Oct. 19, 2011).

The California Trucking Association promotes leadership in the California motor carrier industry, advocates sound transportation policies to all levels of government, and works to maintain a safe, environmentally responsible and efficient California transportation goods movement system.


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