Taco Bell was sued for offering its employees a discount on food, but recently won the case when the Ninth Circuit ruled that Taco Bell did not violate California’s meal break laws. (Rodriguez v. Taco Bell, No. 16-15465 (9th Cir. 2018)).
Bernardina Rodriguez worked for Taco Bell for over six years, during which time Taco Bell provided its employees with timely, 30-minute meal breaks. Taco Bell also offered their employees the opportunity to purchase a discounted meal with the requirement that it be eaten on the premises before, during, or after their shift. Taco Bell wanted to be sure that only employees received this benefit, not friends or family.
Rodriguez alleged, in a class action suit, that because Taco Bell forced her to stay on the premises when she ate her discounted meals that Taco Bell was controlling her time. Therefore, Rodriguez argued, she should have been paid during these meal breaks because she was required to stay on the premises.
There are cases where an employer so burdens the break time that the employee is effectively “on duty.” In this case, Taco Bell did not require employees to take advantage of the discounted food nor did it require employees to stay on site during the meal breaks. The court rightly found that this is not a case of an employer controlling how employee break time is spent, and the class action lawsuit against Taco Bell was dismissed.
REMINDER TO EMPLOYERS
• Provide your employees their meal breaks before the end of the fifth hour of work.
• Provide an uninterrupted, 30-minute meal break where the employee is relieved of all duties.
• Require employees to sign time records and verify that they’ve reported all time worked and have been provided all required meal and rest breaks.
• Pay premium pay if an employee cannot take a meal break due to work requirements.
• Educate managers about their meal and rest break obligations.
• Discipline managers and employees who don’t follow your meal and rest period policies.