24-Hour Residential Care Facility Not Required to Permit Employees to Decline On-Duty Meal Periods

24-Hour Residential Care Facility Not Required to Permit Employees to Decline On-Duty Meal Periods

Plaintiff Yvonne Palacio (“Palacio”) sued her former employer, Jan & Gail’s Care Homes, Inc., alleging that Care Homes violated wage and hour laws by not informing its employees that they had a right to revoke their on-duty meal period agreements.  Palacio sought class certification to include 102 current and former employees in the lawsuit.  The California Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision that Care Homes was not required to inform its employees that they could revoke their on-duty meal period agreements and class certification denial.  In doing so, the Court clarified that 24-hour residential care facilities must comply with only one of two provisions permitting on-duty meal periods in Wage Order 5.

As a 24-hour residential care facility for developmentally disabled individuals, Care Homes is required to provide 24-hour direct care to clients to protect them from illness, injury, fire, and other emergencies.  To do so, Care Homes requires its employees to work on-duty meal periods.  It explains to employees at the time of hire that they will be required to eat lunch with the clients during the clients’ meal period, they will be paid for their lunch period, and they will be provided the same lunch as the clients at no charge.  Employees also signed an on-duty meal period agreement that did not explicitly permit the employee to revoke the agreement.

Wage Order 5 includes two provisions permitting on-duty meal periods.  Under subdivision 11(E), employees may be required to work on-duty meal periods as long as: (1) it is necessary to meet regulatory or approved program standards; (2) the employee eats with residents during residents’ meals; and (3) the employer provides the same meal to the employee at no charge.  Under subdivision 11(A), employees may agree to work on-duty meal periods if they sign a written agreement to waive their meal periods, but the agreement must state that employee can revoke it at any time.

Palacio did not dispute that Care Homes complied with subdivision 11(E) of Wage Order 5.  Rather, she argued that Care Homes was also required to comply with subdivision 11(A) but failed to do so because it’s on-duty meal period agreements did not include revocation provisions.  The Court disagreed, finding that the plain language of Wage Order 5 required Care Homes to comply with either subdivision 11(E) or subdivision 11(A), but not both.  An employer could not “require” an employee to work on-duty meal periods under subdivision 11(E) if the employee could nonetheless revoke the requirement at any time under subdivision 11(A).  That interpretation also would put 24-hour care facilities in the difficult position of altering their scheduling practices to allow employees to take off-duty meal periods at any time while still ensuring the clients receive continuous care.

Palacio failed to prove that Care Homes had a policy violating wage and hour laws that was common among class members because Care Homes did not violate Wage Order 5.  As a result, there were no predominant questions of law or fact that could support class certification.

This case is a reminder of California’s strict requirements regarding on-duty meal periods and valid meal period waivers that may vary across industries.  It is important that employers understand and comply with the applicable requirements.  If you have any questions regarding meal periods, meal period waivers, or any other legal inquiries, please contact the attorneys at Carlson & Jayakumar at (949) 222-2008 or visit us at www.cjattorneys.com.

By Jehan N. Jayakumar and Jasmine Dos Santos

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