California’s Supreme Court will issue its long-awaited decision in its Brinker Restaurant Corporation meal and rest period case within the next four months. The Court will hold oral arguments in the case on November 8, according to an announcement the Court issued on October 4. The Court granted review in the case in October 2008.

The oral argument date sets the 90-day period within which the Court must issue a decision. Under California law, Supreme Court justices will not be paid when a case has been “submitted” for more than 90 days without a ruling. A case is deemed “submitted” as of the close of oral argument – meaning a decision must issue by the end of January 2012.

The Court will decide in Brinker Restaurant Corp. the meaning and requirements of California’s rules on meal and rest periods. The eventual decision also likely will have a significant impact on class certification rules in the state.

Most California employers know they must provide meal periods for employees who will work more than five hours. Most understand California law dictates that when a meal period is required, the meal break must be at least 30 uninterrupted minutes long, with the employee relieved of all duty. And most California employers know state law also calls for them to give employees opportunities to rest during the work day.

But just when during the work day should the meal break be given? Is there any flexibility in the timing of the meal period? What if an employee prefers to take her break earlier, or later – or maybe not at all? And must the employer force employees to stop working for meal periods, even where an hourly employee prefers to work through lunch?  

California’s Supreme Court is set to address these questions in the Brinker Restaurant Corp. case. The court of appeal in that case vacated a trial court order certifying a class of restaurant workers who contended their employer had caused them to take meal periods too early or too late in the work day, misplaced the timing of rest breaks, and made employees work “off the clock” – working time without getting paid for it. See Jackson Lewis article describing the case and the issues entitled, Special Report: Have Your Meal and Time to Eat It, Too! California Courts and the Law on Meal and Rest Breaks

The Brinker Restaurant Corp. case has received considerable attention from the business community and from the labor and employment bar. Its outcome will affect every employer of workers in California, and most employees as well. Stay tuned – we will continue to provide updates regarding this important development.