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Do security lines discourage and/or impede meal breaks in California?

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"I have to wait in a security line going in and out of work - does this mean that I am not getting a legal meal break under California law when part of my 30 minutes meal break is waiting in line?"

The short answer is you are not getting a legal meal break under California law. You may be entitled to significant unpaid wages and penalties.

Do security lines result employees not getting meal breaks under California law?

Security lines and bag check lines are becoming more and more common in California workplaces. We have had cases where warehouses, factories, distribution centers and retail stores have required employees to go through security lines when going in and/or out of the company. The time going through security lines is clearly compensable work time. Meaning you must be paid for the time it takes you to go through mandatory security lines and bag check lines. Here is a great article that explains why you must be paid for your time waiting in company security lines and/or bag check lines.

A separate question that we see is whether security lines mean that you don’t get your 30 minute meal break as required by California wage law.

Why a security line means that your employer failed to provide you with a meal period

In the landmark Brinker California Supreme Court case, the California Supreme Court explained that the fundamental employer obligation associated with a meal break is "to relieve the employee of all duty and relinquish any employer control over the employee and how he or she spends the time." Brinker v. Superior Court 53 Cal. 4th 1004, 1038-40 (2012).

The employer satisfies this obligation if it:

1.   Relieves its employees of all duty,
2.   Relinquishes control over their activities
3.   Permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break
4.   Does not impede or discourage them from doing so. 
Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court 53 Cal. 4th 1004, 1038-40 (2012).

I know the Brinker case very well, because I represented the workers in the Brinker case.

Why does a security line impede or discourage you from getting a meal period under California law?

As we have been successfully contending (that is getting companies with security lines to pay BIG money to settle class action cases); having a security line impedes and/or discourages employees from taking a meal period. When a worker has to spend part of their 30 minute meal period in a security line, then the employer has control over you during that 30 minutes. Thus, whether you actually choose to wait in the line during your meal period - the employer has discouraged you and/or impeded you from getting your meal period.

You're entitled to hour's pay for every meal break (whether you go through the security line or not during your meal break)

Under California law, you're entitled to an hour's pay every time that your employer fails to provide you with a meal break. California Labor Code Section 226.7. When the company has a security line that you have to go through in order to leave the premises during your meal break, then the company is impeding or discouraging you from getting your meal break. 

Thus, whether you leave or not (that is, whether you walk through the security line or not) during your meal break - you're being impeded or discouraged from getting your meal period and the company owes you an hour's pay.

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Case Study | Wal-Mart workers, a security line and not getting a legal meal break

In the Hamilton v. Walmart case the District Court addressed the issue of whether Walmart’s security check practice discouraged employees or impeded employees from taking a 30 minute uninterrupted meal period.

The District Court in Hamilton v. Walmart ruled:

Here, Walmart's standard practice was to require all associate class members to pass through a security check process when exiting the facility during their lunch. Contrary to Walmart's argument, Plaintiffs need not show the security check "actually prevent[s]" associates from taking meal breaks or "off-site meal breaks." (Def.'s MSJ at 6.) Plaintiffs need only present evidence from which a jury could conclude that the security check "impede[s] or discourages them from doing so." Brinker, 53 Cal. 4th at 1038-40.

The Court disagrees with Walmart's interpretation of Brinker as prohibiting employers only from preventing employees from taking a meal break. Rather, California law imposes an affirmative obligation on employers to provide employees with meal breaks. This broad interpretation is consistent with the purpose of the Labor Code and wage orders of protecting employees. See Troester v. Starbucks Corp., 5 Cal. 5th 829, 839, 235 Cal. Rptr. 3d 820, 421 P.3d 1114 (2018) ("In furtherance of that purpose, we liberally construe the Labor Code and wage orders to favor the protection of employees.").

Hamilton v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 77699, *14, 2019 WL 1949456.

As it turns out, the jury agreed with the workers in the Hamilton case and awarded the Wal-Mart workers $6 million for the security lines discouraging and impeding the workers right to meal breaks.

Perhaps one of the most important parts of this case is the jury instruction which was given to the jury regarding the employer's obligation to provide meal breaks:

If an employee is not given the opportunity to take a 30-minute, uninterrupted break during which hr or she is relieved of all duty, then the meal break has not been provided. 

Why is Bill Turley asked to testify concerning wage law legislation at the California State Senate and the California Assembly?

Turley Testifying Wage Law Legislation At The California State Senate And The California Assembly

Because Bill is known as a No B.S.straight-shooter lawyer

Believe it or not, Bill is known for being a no B.S. straight-up lawyer. Besides being known as one of the leading experts on this area of the law in California, one of the reasons why Bill is asked to testify at legislature hearings is because he is known for being straight-forward and blunt. He is known for being no B.S., with no lawyer-talk, no double-talk.

Case Study - Factory Workers - Having to go through a security line - not getting meal periods

In this Case Study, Bob works in a California factory. You see the factories products in stores that you go into every week. They are a very well known brand.

The factory has a security line that employees have to go through both going into the factory and leaving the factory. There is always a line going both ways in the security line. Employees are checked for cell phones and anything metal going in (such as weapons, etc) and they are check to make sure they aren’t stealing any product on the way out. All bags are checked going both ways.

The wait in the security line is at least 2-3 minutes. Sometimes the line can be up to 10 minutes or more.

Under the California Supreme Court Brinker case - the security line means the employer impedes the workers from taking a meal break and/or discourages the workers from taking a meal break. The security line is a violation of California meal break law.

Bob has worked at the factory for one year. He has worked 260 shifts. His shifts are 8 hours a day. Bob is paid $14 an hour. The factory pays the employees on a weekly basis.

260 shifts x $ 14 = $ 3,640 in meal period premium pay owed

In addition, under the Troester California Supreme Court case, workers must be paid for all time worked.  Clearly, the workers are under the control of the company when they are going through the security line.  Here is a great article on getting paid while you wait in security lines.

Being conservative - Bob is owed 4 minutes a day in wages. That is 2 minutes before his shift and 2 minutes after his shift. Plus Bob is owed liquidated damages due to the failure to pay minimum wage. The liquidated damages are double the minimum wage

4 minutes times 260 shifts = 1040 minutes = 17.33 hours

 $ 24 x 17.33 hours = $ 415

Please note that claiming the minimum wage and liquidated damages is more money owed than claiming straight time pay and/or overtime pay.

In addition, Bob is also owed $4,000 in pay stub violations because each week the pay stubs do not include the meal period premiums, they do not include all of the hours worked and all of the pay that is owed to Bob.  California Labor Code Section 226.

In addition, Bob is owed 30 days pay because all of his wages were not paid timely at time of termination. California Labor Code Section 203.

$14 x 8 = $112
$112 x 30 days wages = $3,360

Total wages and penalties owed

$ 3,640  meal period premium pay
$   415  liquidated damages - not paid for all time worked
$ 4,000  pay stub violations
$ 3,360  waiting time penalties
$11,415 total wages and penalties owed

Meal breaks and security line - California wage law

Bill represented the workers in the landmark California Supreme Court case Brinker vs Superior Court (Maybe the most important wage case EVER for the protection of workers)

Bill represented the workers in the groundbreaking California Supreme Court case - Brinker vs. Superior Court. Many people say that the Brinker case is the most important California Supreme Court wage and hour case in years (if not ever).

One of the worker protection concepts in the Brinker decision that keeps getting repeated again and again:

“When construing the California Labor Code, California courts are to adopt the construction that best gives effect to the purpose of the Legislature and Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC). The purpose of these laws is the protection of workers. In furtherance of that purpose, California courts are to liberally construe the Labor Code and Wage Orders to favor protection of workers.”

In the Brinker case, the California Supreme Court laid out the duties that California companies have, including providing meal periods and rest periods to workers.

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This article isn't legal advice

These discussions and/or examples are not legal advice. All legal situations are different. These testimonials, endorsements, photos and/or discussions do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter, or your particular case/ situation. Every case is different. There are any number of reasons why class actions are not certified, not won and/or PAGA actions are not successful.

The names and companies names with these Case Studies have been changed in order to protect the innocent. And the guilty. Any resemblance to actual cases and situations is purely coincidental.

Just because we have gotten great results in so many other unpaid wage cases, doesn't guarantee in particular result in other cases. Including, your wage case. Every case is different.

William Turley
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