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On October 5, 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill confirming that hospital employees and other employees in the healthcare industry can continue to waive one of their two meal periods. Healthcare workers that work 12 or more hours in a given day are entitled to two meals, but they have an option to waive one of those meals if they so choose. Healthcare workers brought a case against their hospital, claiming that the hospital’s policy of allowing healthcare workers to waive a meal was unlawful. The case, Gerard v. Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center, was initially filed in 2008, and since Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2015 ruling, has since been back to court twice. It is just now, as of March 2017, coming to a close.

California Court of Appeals Reverses Decision Twice

After Gov. Jerry Brown handed down his initial determination, the case was then brought before the Court of Appeals. The three-member panel reversed Brown’s decision, claiming that, “the provision in Wage Order 5 allowing waivers even when employees work over 12 hours was invalid.”

After two more years of extensive litigation on the matter, on March 1, 2017 the case was brought back in front of the same panel of judges, who reversed their own decision. They confirmed that the special meal period rules for health care employees are, in fact, valid.

What This Decision Means for Hospitals and Healthcare Workers

Though the case is not entirely settled (though it looks like it is getting close to it), if the panel of judges sticks with their final decision, it would mean that hospital workers would be allowed to work their 12-hour shift with the flexibility to choose whether they wanted to eat one meal or two during that shift. Taking just one meal break would reduce their workday from 13 hours to 12½, a significant amount of time for someone who is on their feet the greater portion of the day.

Additionally, this decision reduces a hospital’s risk for liability for meal period violations. If an employee did miss a single meal period during a 12-hour shift, the hospital could just refer to the California Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) to show that the worker voluntarily waived his or her rights to that meal.

All-in-all, the Court of Appeal’s decision seems like the best one for everyone involved, but we will see if it sticks.

Consult a Pleasanton Labor Issues Attorney

Because the healthcare industry is a minefield for lawsuits, it is best to work with an experienced Pleasanton lawyer who fully comprehends California’s labor laws as they pertain to the industry. At Garcia & Gurney, ALC, our labor law attorneys have a firm understanding of the issues that plaque the healthcare industry and strive to help healthcare workers and employers navigate those issues in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible. To schedule a consultation with our team today, call 925-468-0400 today, or contact us online.

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