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April 18, 2007
Court: CA Workers Have 3 Years for Missed-Meal-Break Claims

The Supreme Court of California has ruled that three years is the statute of limitations for employees to recover the remedy for an employer's failure to provide mandatory meal breaks or rest breaks in the state.

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In California, employers must allow employees to take a half-hour meal break during any work period of more than 5 hours per day. The state also requires that employers permit employees to take a rest period lasting at least 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked.

California Labor Code Section 226.7 states that "if an employer fails to provide an employee a meal period or rest period in accordance with an applicable order of the Industrial Welfare Commission, the employer shall pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the employee's regular rate of compensation for each work day that the meal or rest period is not provided."

The California Supreme Court was asked to decide whether the "one additional hour of pay" constitutes a wage or premium pay subject to a three-year statute of limitations or a penalty subject to a one-year statute of limitations.

"We conclude that the remedy provided in Labor Code section 226.7 constitutes a wage or premium pay and is governed by a three-year statute of limitations," the court wrote in reversing a lower court's ruling.

The California Supreme Court's decision came in the case of Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc.

John Paul Murphy worked as a store manager in a Kenneth Cole Productions (KCP) retail clothing store from June 2000 until June 19, 2002. Murphy alleges that he was only able to take an uninterrupted, duty-free meal period about once every two weeks. In addition, he says that he rarely had the opportunity to take a rest break. After he left the company, a friend had suggested that the company had paid him improperly, which prompted Murphy to file a wage claim.

In awarding payments to Murphy for meal and rest period violations, the trial court applied a three-year statute of limitations. The company appealed the decision, arguing that the trial court had erred. The Court of Appeal ruled that payments assessed for meal and rest period violations are subject to a one-year statute of limitations. Murphy then appealed to the California Supreme Court.

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