No Exemption from Meal Period Requirements for Employees under Collective Bargaining Agreements

By July 19, 2006Articles

Previously, the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) had issued a wage order that exempted certain employees covered by collective bargaining agreements from meal period requirements set forth in Labor Code §512.

In Bearden v. U.S. Borax the court of appeal in Los Angeles recently invalidated that exemption. A group of employees in the Bearden case alleged that they worked 12.5 hour shifts at an open pit mine, with only one meal period, while Labor Code §512 requires two meal periods on a shift of that length.

The appellate court agreed with the employees, holding that the exemption adopted by the IWC was contrary to the provisions of the statute, which requires a 30 minute meal break for each five hour work period. While the law allows the employer and employee to waive a meal period if the shift is no more than six hours, and to waive a second meal period by mutual consent, there is no express statutory authority in Labor Code §512 for the general collective bargaining agreement exemption adopted by the IWC.

The Bearden holding also brings into question a number of other, similar, IWC meal period exemptions, even though they were not directly contested in that case. For example, IWC wage orders allow employees to agree in writing to “on-duty” meal periods, where the nature of the work precludes an employee from being relieved from all duties. The statute does not deal at all with “on-duty” meal periods.

As the IWC ceased functioning after July, 2004, when the legislature eliminated its funding, there is no expectation of any administrative action to counter the court’s holding in Bearden.

For any questions or comments regarding this Labor Law Update please contact attorney Michael Daly of the Daly Law Firm at (619) 525-7000 or

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