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Meal Period Waivers for Healthcare Workers

Posted by Eric Kingsley | Feb 27, 2015 | 0 Comments

Summary

Meal period and rest breaks1

In Jazmina Gerard v. Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center, three health care workers sued their hospital employer for alleged Labor Code violations and related claims. On appeal, their primary complaint was a hospital policy that illegally let health care employees waive their second meal periods on shifts longer than 12 hours. Statute requires two meal periods for shifts longer than 12 hours but an order of the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) authorizes employees in the health care industry to waive one of those two required meal periods on shifts longer than 8 hours. The principal issue before the California Court of Appeal concerned the validity of the IWC order.

The Court concluded the IWC order is partially invalid to the extent it authorizes second meal break waivers on shifts longer than 12 hours. However, with one exception, the retroactive application of the Court's conclusion must be litigated on remand. The Appellate Court also determined the trial court incorrectly granted summary judgment and denied class certification.

Background

Plaintiffs and appellants Jazmina Gerard, Kristiane McElroy, and Jeffery Carl are health care workers who were formerly employed by the defendant, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center. Gerard, McElroy, and Carl alleged they usually worked 12-hour shifts, but from time to time worked shifts longer than 12 hours.

A hospital policy allowed health care employees who worked shifts longer than 10 hours caring for patients to voluntarily waive one of their two meal periods, even if their shifts lasted more than 12 hours. The plaintiffs alleged they all signed second meal period waivers, and occasionally worked shifts longer than 12 hours without being provided a second meal period.

The plaintiff's third amended complaint alleged second meal period waiver and other Labor Code violations, and sought statutory penalties, unpaid wages, and injunctive relief. Gerard alleged claims on her own behalf, and on behalf of others as an “aggrieved employee” under the Private Attorney General Act of 2004 (Lab. Code, § 2698 et seq.; PAGA). McElroy and Carl alleged claims on their own behalf, and on behalf of all other similarly situated persons, and sought class certification (Code Civ. Proc., § 382).

Labor Code section 512 and 516 versus IWC Wage Order No. 5

At the heart of this case was the plaintiffs contention that the hospital's second meal period waiver policy violates Labor Code sections 512, subdivision (a) (section 512(a)) and 516,1because section11(D) (section 11(D)) of IWC wage order No. 5-2001 (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11050 (Wage Order No. 5)) is invalid to the extent it allows employees to waive their second meal periods on shifts longer than 12 hours.
The plaintiffs asserted there is a conflict between section 512(a) and section 11(D), because the latter sanctions second meal period waivers for health care employees who work shifts of more than 12 hours, while the former allows such waivers only if the total hours worked is no more than 12 hours. Further, the plaintiffs argued that the IWC exceeded its authority by enacting section 11(D), because it created an additional exception for healthcare workers, beyond the second meal period waiver exception in section 512(a), all in violation of section 516.

The Court of Appeal's Decision

The Court felt the plaintiffs showed their invalid second meal period policy and waiver theory is potentially viable, and plaintiffs have proffered substantial evidence hospital violated the governing law by failing to provide second meal periods or premium pay in lieu thereof on shifts longer than 12 hours as required. The Appellate Court went on to declare, “The lower court's contrary conclusions rest on improper criteria and assumptions that are erroneous as a matter of law. Consequently, we conclude the court abused its discretion by denying McElroy and Carl class certification on the grounds plaintiffs failed to show they have any claim. We express no opinion on the other stated grounds for denial of class certification but instead direct the court to consider them further on remand.”

In conclusion, the Court found that “the summary judgment against Gerard and the order denying McElroy and Carl class certification are reversed. The case is remanded to the trial court, and the trial court is directed to (a) enter a new order denying the motion for summary judgment, and (b) consider the other stated grounds for denial of class certification further in the light of this opinion.” Further, the requests for judicial notice were granted and the plaintiffs are now entitled to recover their costs on appeal.

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About the Author

Eric Kingsley

In practice since 1996, the firm's lawyer and co-founder, Eric B. Kingsley, has litigated complex cases and written numerous appeals in state and federal courts on behalf of the California law firm Kingsley & Kingsley, including More than 150 collective actions. Mr. Kingsley focuses his practice ...

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