On February 10, 2015, the California Court of Appeal ruled that the two wage orders regarding meal periods that healthcare companies have been following for years violate California law. In the case, Jazmina Gerard v. Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center, the court held healthcare employers must get two meal breaks if they are working shifts longer than twelve hours, even if the employees have signed a written agreement waiving their second meal break.
Companies who employ healthcare employees have relied on two wage orders, Wage Order 4 and Wage Order 5, to establish meal break policies. Wage Order 4 applies to “Professional, Technical, Clerical, and Similar Occupations.” Wage Order 5 applies to the “Public Housekeeping Industry.” Both orders explicitly permit healthcare employees who work over eight hours to waive one of their meal periods. Preferring to work through their shift and go home sooner, many healthcare employees signed a written waiver and worked twelve to fifteen hours without receiving a second meal period. These healthcare workers retained the right to revoke the waiver of their meal period at any time, and they were still compensated for all the time they worked, in accordance with the wage orders and other applicable laws.
However, the Appellate Court’s ruling states that portions of Wage Orders 4 and 5 are illegal, and employers should not have been relying on them. The Court wrote that employers were on “clear notice” that they should have been providing two meal periods to employees who work more than twelve hours. Because the employers had notice, the Court held that this two-meal-period rule should apply retroactively.
The major takeaways from this ruling are that employers of healthcare workers who work over twelve hours should make sure their employees take two meal breaks, regardless of any waivers they may have signed. Because the court wrote that the rule applied retroactively, employers should also be wary of possible class action lawsuits dealing with meal breaks.