Calif. Employers Can Place Conditions on Meal Benefits

Hospitality Law September 2018

Michael S. Kun, Member of the Firm, and Carly Baratt, Associate, in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the firm’s Los Angeles and New York offices, respectively, authored an article in Hospitality Law, titled “Calif. Employers Can Place Conditions on Meal Benefits.”

Following is an excerpt:

The Ninth Circuit recently considered in Ro­driguez whether Taco Bell’s on-site meal periods for employees who purchase discounted food run afoul of California’s meal period laws.

The Ninth Circuit first found that Taco Bell’s discounted meal policy did not interfere with its employees’ use of break time or require the em­ployees to serve Taco Bell’s interests during meal breaks because:

  1. The program was voluntary (employees could eat full-price meals anywhere).
  2. The policy’s requirement that discounted meals be consumed away from work areas actu­ally prevented participating employees from work­ing while eating.

The court rejected the plaintiff employee’s con­tention that Taco Bell employees who purchased discounted meals were under Taco Bell’s “con­trol,” distinguishing the policy from those where employees cannot conduct personal business.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision in Rodriguez indicates that employers can place conditions upon receipt of certain meal-time benefits without violating California law as long as participation is voluntary and the employees do not have to perform duties during meal breaks. However, employers must be mindful that Rodriguez is a federal court decision with no binding effect upon the state courts — and it is certainly possible that a state court could reach a different conclusion.