In a critical win for California workers, the state Supreme Court has ruled that meal and rest period premiums are considered “wages” under state law. In short, this means that companies who must pay these premiums have to treat them like any other wages. They can’t withhold these funds, and ignoring them may be wage theft.
This decision has been a long time coming. Now that it’s here, California workers have significantly better leverage in wage theft and compensation claims. Here’s how the decision came about and what it means for workers like you.
Understanding the Case
California law states that all employers must pay their non-exempt workers a “premium” of one hour of pay if they fail to provide them with a rest or meal break as the law requires. For example, they must provide all employees with a meal break of at least half an hour if they work five hours. The worker shouldn’t be required to do any tasks during their break, and the company can’t discourage workers from taking the break. For every break a worker fails to receive, the company must pay them for an additional hour.
In Naranjo v. Spectrum Security Services, Inc., Mr. Naranjo sued Spectrum Security Services for firing him after he took a meal break as protected under law. In the class-action lawsuit, he sought the additional hour of pay for each meal break he and other workers had failed to receive. The district court found that Spectrum Services failed to pay these premiums and that the failure violated California’s wage payment and timely payment laws.
Spectrum Security appealed, and the appellate court reversed the decision, stating that “premiums” are not equivalent to “wages.” However, Naranjo appealed again, and the state Supreme Court heard the case. The Court ruled that premiums are wages, and employers are potentially committing wage theft by failing to pay these premiums. Furthermore, by declaring premiums wages, the Court found that they are subject to interest if a company doesn’t pay them promptly.
What the Naranjo Decision Means for Workers
The Supreme Court’s decision reaffirms that California takes workers’ rights seriously. It clarifies three things:
- Companies must respect employees’ rights to take breaks as required by law.
- Failing to respect these rights means companies must pay workers significantly more for that time than they otherwise would.
- Failing to pay these premiums is against the law, and employees can file backpay claims against employers if they do not receive them.
As a worker, this means you have a better chance of fighting for your right to take breaks and get paid for breaks you miss. If your employer isn’t giving you breaks or paying the premiums you’re owed, you can take legal action to fight for the backpay you’re owed.
Stand Up for Your Right to Take Breaks
California law prioritized workers’ rights, especially your right to receive your wages in full and on time. By naming meal and rest premiums as wages, the Supreme Court has given employees like you more leverage to fight abusive employers for the money you’re owed. If you suspect your employer has committed wage theft against you, you can get help from the experts at AM+F LLP. Schedule your free consultation today to learn how we can support your claim.