Collective Bargaining Agreement Waives Meal Breaks

A California Court of Appeal Found That a Group of Employees Waived Their Meal Breaks in a Collective Bargaining Agreement

California Labor Code section 512, subdivision (a) states that an employee working more than five hours, but less than ten hours, in a shift is entitled to a meal period of at least 30 minutes, unless the employee and employer mutually waive the requirement to provide the meal period for a shift that does not exceed six hours.  Thus, while a meal-period is a statutory right, and while statutory rights generally are not waivable, the statute itself makes this meal period waivable.  The case of Ehret v. Winco Foods, LLC (2018) 26 Cal.App.5th 1, illustrates how a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) can effectively waive the meal period requirement.

Cashiers at a WinCo Foods were hourly employees who belonged to a union.  The CBA between the union and WinCo stated that when a work period of not more than six hours will complete a day’s work, a meal period is not required.  After the employees sued WinCo for failing to provide meal periods, WinCo moved for summary judgment to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the CBA had waived the employees’ statutory right to a meal period.  The trial court granted WinCo’s motion, and the employees appealed.

On appeal, the employees argued that the CBA failed to qualify as a valid waiver of statutory rights because its language was not “clear and unmistakable.”  The Court of Appeal rejected the argument and affirmed the trial court’s decision.  The Court of Appeal began its analysis by confirming that an employee—and a union on behalf of represented employees—may lawfully waive negotiable statutory rights.  (The court expressed doubt, however, that employees could ever waive nonnegotiable statutory rights.)  But any such waiver of a statutory right in a CBA must be “clear and unmistakable,” meaning that the CBA must do more than speak in general language: the language must specify either the statutory protection being waived or the statute itself.

The employees argued that the CBA flunked this test because the CBA did not use the word “waive,” and did not cite the statute addressing meal periods.  The Court of Appeal rightly rejected these overly technical arguments.  Even though the CBA did not cite any statute addressing meal periods, the CBA—by saying when “a meal period is not required”—did use language that was “flatly irreconcilable” with the statutory right, and in a context in which the statute, by its terms, made that right negotiable.

What This Means for Employers:

Although this case addressed only the enforceability of a meal period waiver in the context of a CBA, its analysis is useful generally.  The court used reason and common sense by making it clear that a waiver, to be valid, need not use magic words such as “waive” and need not legalistically cite the statutory provision at issue.  Language suffices to accomplish a waiver if the language simply makes clear that the employee is giving up a negotiable right that the statute, absent a waiver, would protect.  Contact Barsamian & Moody for assistance in negotiating a union contract that can be used to defend employee class action claims.

The goal of this article is to provide employers with current labor and employment law information.  The contents should neither be interpreted as, nor construed as legal advice or opinion.  The reader should consult with Barsamian & Moody at (559) 248-2360 for individual responses to questions or concerns regarding any given situation.