Meal and Rest Period Statutes Do Not Apply To Public Employees

September 22, 2010 | Bulletin No. 951252.1

In California Correctional Peace Officers’ Association v. State of California, (--- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, Cal.App. 1 Dist., August 18, 2010), a court of appeal addressed whether the State of California violated provisions of the Labor Code and an Industrial Welfare Commission (“IWC”) wage order when it failed to provide correctional officers with meal periods and then failed to pay the officers wages for the missed meal periods. The case was on appeal from a summary judgment issued by the Alameda County Superior Court in favor of the State. David W. Tyra and Kristianne T. Seargeant of Kronick Moskovitz Tiedemann & Girard successfully represented the State in both the trial court and appellate court in obtaining a ruling that provisions of both the California Labor Code and Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Order addressing meal and rest periods do not apply to public employees.

Facts

The California Correctional Peace Officers' Association ("CCPOA") is an employee organization for State employees in State Bargaining Unit 6. CCPOA filed a class action lawsuit against the State in which it asserted that the State, through the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("Department"), had committed violations of the Labor Code and an IWC Wage Order by failing to provide correctional officers meal breaks. The trial court found that the statutes and wage orders at issue do not apply to the public sector and issued summary judgment in favor of the State. CCPOA appealed and the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in favor of the State.

Decision

Labor Code sections 512 and 226.7 establish the basic requirements for providing employees with meal and rest periods. The Court of Appeal held that these statutes were inapplicable to the State because, as a general rule, “provisions of the Labor Code apply only to employees in the private sector unless they are specifically made applicable to public employees.” The court found no reason to depart from this general rule and held that sections 512 and 226.7 do not apply to public employees.

The court also found Wage Order No. 17 is inapplicable. The IWC has issued “17 different wage orders that apply to distinct groups of employees.” Wage Order No. 17 “is a catch-all order” which applies to “Miscellaneous Employees” who the IWC has not covered by any specific wage order. Wage Order No. 17 “applies to ‘[a]ny industry or occupation not previously covered by, and all employees not specifically exempted in, the Commission’s wage orders in effect in 1997 or otherwise exempted by law.’”

CCPOA argued that Wage Order No. 17 applies to Department “employees because peace officers were not covered or exempted by any wage order in effect in 1997.” The court rejected this argument. The court stated, “It is well established that public employees have been historically exempt from IWC orders.” There are, however, two exceptions to this rule that are related to household occupations and agricultural occupations. The court concluded, “As public employees were exempt from all but two wage orders in effect in 1997, Wage Order No. 17 does not apply to [Department] employees.”

What This Means To Public Employers

Specifically, this decision confirms the inapplicability of meal and rest period provisions in the California Labor Code to public employers. More broadly, however, it further supports the legal position that if a statute in the Labor Code does not contain an express provision applying it to public sector employers and employees, the public sector is exempt.


Questions

If you have any questions concerning the content of this Legal Alert, please contact the following from our office, or the attorney with whom you normally consult.

David W. Tyra, Kristianne T. Seargeant, Bruce A. Scheidt or Laura Izon Powell | 916.321.4500