BREAKING NEWS: Employees’ Missed Meal Periods

Washington State Supreme Court issues ruling on case involving employees’ missed meal periods


On June 29, 2017, the Washington State Supreme Court answered two questions certified from a federal district court in the case of Brady v. AutoZone Stores, Inc.

The Court answered the following certified questions as follows:

  1. Is an employer strictly liable under WAC 296-126-092? No. The employer is not automatically liable if a meal break is missed because the employee may waive the meal break under the regulation.
     
  2. If an employer is not strictly liable under WAC 296-126-092, does the employee carry the burden to prove that his employer did not permit the employee an opportunity to take a meaningful break as required by WAC 296-126-092? An employee asserting a meal break violation under WAC 296-126-092 can establish his or her prima facie case by providing evidence that he or she did not receive a timely meal break. The burden then shifts to the employer to rebut this by showing that in fact no violation occurred or that a valid waiver exists.

The opinion can be found at Courts.wa.gov

What does this mean to employers?

Employers may allow employees to waive their meal periods, but the employer may never coerce or force the employee to do so. Also, if you allow employees to waive their meal periods, then you should keep evidence of the waiver on file for at least three years to protect against liability for violations of WAC 296-126-092.  In practice this could be a written waiver signed by an employee either for a period of time or on a case by case basis.

Washington State’s Department of Labor and Industries has posted the following advice to employers:

Business owners please note: The Department of Labor & Industries recommends that you get a written statement from workers who want to give up their meal periods.”

Agricultural employers please note: The regulation for meal and rest periods for agricultural workers is different than that cited in the Brady case. WAC 296-131-020 governs meal periods for agricultural workers and states that employees “shall receive a meal period…” as opposed to the nonagricultural regulation that states the employees “shall be allowed a meal period…”[emphasis added]. This could give way to the interpretation that while the nonagricultural meal period is waivable, the agricultural meal period cannot be waived.

If you have further questions about this, contact an attorney to assist you with implementing the proper policies and procedures for missed meal periods.

Kirk Esmond