California employers know to expect that the law sometimes takes some crazy turns. But the changes to the rules for healthcare worker meal waivers have been particularly insane. Try to keep up.
- In 2000, the legislature enacted AB 60, which included provisions saying that if you worked more than 12 hours, you could not waive a second meal period. The law also gave the Industrial Welfare Commission authority to issue regulations.
- The IWC issued amended Wage Orders that same year. Wage Orders 4 (Professional, Technical, Clerical, Mechanical & Similar Occupations) and 5 (Public Housekeeping Industry – which includes hospitals) specifically allow healthcare employees working 12–15 hours to waive a second meal period.
- A group of plaintiffs sued their employer arguing that the IWC exceeded its authority and that the Wage Orders were illegal to the extent that they allowed waiver of the second meal period. The case was Jazmina Gerard v. Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center. In that case, the trial judge granted summary judgment for the employer, the employees appealed, and the appellate court reversed. So as of February 2015, employers who had followed the Wage Orders were suddenly subject to class-wide liability going back at least three years.
- In October 2015, the state legislature enacted a statute specifically permitting healthcare workers working over 12 hours to waive the second meal period. Still, the litigation continued because it raised questions about how to interpret the law before that enactment.
- In March 2017, after being told by the California Supreme Court to take another look, the appellate court reversed itself. It recognized that it was mistaken on the timing and concluded that the IWC acted appropriately.
- The California Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. In a decision issued earlier this week, the California Supreme Court agreed that the IWC acted within its rights in issuing the Wage Orders. So we’re back where we started. Healthcare employees working 12-15 hours are allowed (and have been allowed since 2000) to waive a second meal period.
Throughout this process, healthcare workers and their employers both wanted the same thing. Neither benefited from a rule that said that, after working over 12 hours, you couldn’t go home until you took an unpaid, 30-minute meal break. It didn’t need to be this complicated.