California Supreme Court Rules That Payments for Missed Breaks are “Wages”

by | Jun 2, 2022 | wage and hour |

In a recent development in California employment law, on May 23, 2022, the California Supreme Court, in the case of Naranjo v. Spectrum Security Services, Inc., Cal.5th _, S258966 (2022), held that meal and rest period premiums owed to employees who are unable to take a full and/or timely meal or rest period should be considered wages for purposes of California’s wage statements and final pay requirements.

California law requires that employers provide nonexempt employees with an unpaid, uninterrupted off-duty 30-minute meal period prior to the end of the employee’s fifth hour of work and a second meal period prior to the end of the tenth hour of work. In addition, nonexempt employees are entitled to a paid, uninterrupted 10-minute rest break for every four hours worked (or major fraction thereof).

If an employer fails to provide these mandated meal and rest breaks, the employee is entitled to payment of one hour’s wages (at the employee’s regular rate of pay) as a premium for each day that a meal or rest period is not provided.

Under this new California Supreme Court ruling, if an employer fails to include any meal and rest period premium payments at the time of the employee’s separation of employment, the employee is entitled under California Labor Code section 203, to seek statutory waiting time penalties equal to one day of pay for each day an employee’s final wages are withheld or paid late, up to a maximum of thirty days. Further, an employer that fails to include premium pay for missed breaks in an employee’s itemized wage statement could also be liable for failure to provide an accurate itemized wage statement in violation of California Labor Code section 226.