California Legislature Indicates Intent To Clarify Meal Period Law
On April 15, 2008, the California Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee unanimously approved SB 1539 as amended to "declare the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation to address issues related to meal periods in employment." SB 1539, authored by Senator Ron Calderon (D-Montebello), sponsored and supported by the California Chamber of Commerce, California Restaurant Association, and approximately 40 trade and professional organizations, was introduced to provide a comprehensive solution to compliance with and enforcement of California's meal period laws.
SB 1539 has generated bipartisan support from Committee members who have expressed concern over the inflexibility and ambiguity of meal period laws in California that have spawned a tidal wave of expensive litigation and liability for California employers. As a result, Committee members have recognized the need for clarity and greater flexibility to meet the needs of both employers and employees. SB 1539, as originally drafted, would have provided for the following changes to existing meal period law (among others): (1) allowing the employee to waive either the first or second meal period if the employee is otherwise entitled to two meal periods in a day; (2) expanding conditions for employees to take on-duty meal periods; (3) allowing collective bargaining agreements to override provisions of the meal period rules; and (4) defining "providing an employee with" a meal period to mean "giving the employee an opportunity to take" a meal period. The Committee amended SB 1539 to delete all of the substantive changes to the meal period laws, and amended the bill to simply declare the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation to address issues related to meal periods in employment. While the meal period laws have not been changed, the Legislature's declaration of intent is a goodsign that lawmakers recognize the need for change and will continue to have further discussions to try to find consensus on a solution that contains adequate protections for employers and employees. SB 1539 has been referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Employers and employees are encouraged to contact the Senate Appropriations Committee to voice their opinions regarding SB 1539 to continue to build the momentum for change in meal period laws. We will continue to monitor this legislation and apprise you of any developments.