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September 2, 2010

California Court Rules that California’s Meal Period Requirements Do Not Apply to California State Correctional Workers


The California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, recently confirmed that meal period requirements do not apply to California state correctional workers. California Correctional Peace Officers’ Association v. State of California (2010) -- Cal.Rptr.3d ---, 2010 WL 3248794. This is the second appellate court in the past 15 months to conclude that California’s meal period requirements do not apply to a segment of the public sector. This decision follows on the heels of a decision issued by the Fifth Appellate District in Johnson v. Arvin- Edison Water Storage District (2009) 174 Cal.App.4th 729, a case litigated by AALRR.

Background

The California Correctional Peace Officers’ Association (CCPOA) is the recognized employee organization for a unit of State employees working in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. As a public agency, the Department of Corrections is governed by the wage and hour laws set forth in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). However, the FLSA does not require meal and rest periods. Thus, the CCPOA filed a lawsuit seeking to impose more stringent State law requirements on the State agency, claiming the State failed (a) to provide correctional officers with meal periods as required by Labor Code section 512 and Wage Order No. 17 promulgated by the Industrial Wage Commission (IWC), and (b) to pay correctional officers for the missed meal periods as required by Labor Code section 226.7. The trial court concluded Sections 226.7 and 512 did not apply to public employers, and IWC Wage Order No. 4, not Wage Order No. 17, applies to the correctional officers.

Public Agencies Are Not Subject to Labor Code Sections 512 and 226.7

While CCPOA’s case was pending, the Arvin-Edison decision came out in June 2009. In that case, the court, agreeing with AALRR’s arguments in defending the Water Storage District, held “unless Labor Code provisions are specifically made applicable to public employers, they only apply to employers in the private sector.” It further concluded that because Section 512 did not expressly apply to public agencies, it was not applicable to the Water Storage District.

The CCPOA argued that Arvin- Edison had been incorrectly decided because, in CCPOA’s opinion, there was evidence the Legislature intended Section 512 to apply to public entities. CCPOA argued that Section 512 specifically exempts employees in the wholesale baking industry and motion picture industry, but is silent as to public employees. The implication, according to CCPOA, is that the failure to specifically exempt public employees reflected the legislative intent to include them in the statute’s coverage. The court rejected CCPOA’s argument, indicating it runs contrary to the well-established principle of statutory construction that, absent express words to the contrary, governmental agencies are not subject to the general words of a statute.

The CCPOA also argued, from the opposite approach, that because there are instances in which public employees are specifically exempted from related Labor Code sections, it may be inferred that the Legislature intended Sections 226.7 and 512 to apply to public entities. The court rejected this argument as well.

Wage Order No. 17 Does Not Apply to Those Public Agencies in Existence as of 2000

California’s 17 wage orders set forth employment regulations for specified industries and/or occupations. The Court noted that while most of the wage orders in effect in 1997 expressly exempt public agencies, Wage Order No. 17 does not. However, Wage Order No. 17 was promulgated in 2000 for the purpose of applying to “all employees not specifically exempted” in the wage orders in effect in 1997 and to employees in new industries that did not belong in any other wage order. The court concluded that because public employees were exempt from all but two of the wage orders in effect in 1997, and correctional facilities would not qualify as a new industry, Wage Order No. 17 does not apply to the correctional officers. Whereas the trial court had determined that Wage Order No. 4, rather than Wage Order No. 17, applied in this case, the appellate court expressed no opinion except to note that Wage Order No. 4 is one of the orders that exempts public employees from its meal period provisions.

What Does this Decision Mean for Public Employers?

There have been several lawsuits filed over the last few years against public sector employers contending that the wage and hour provisions of the California Labor Code and Wage Orders apply to public employers. These include lawsuits for meal and rest periods, overtime, late wage payments and reimbursement for uniform costs. This is the latest decision to find that the state’s wage and hour laws do not apply to public sector workers unless expressly intended. This case is helpful for public entities because it not only confirms that California’s meal period requirements do not apply to public employees, but it also affirms the well-established principle that public entities are not subject to a general statute unless expressly included in that statute. For more information, please contact one of our authors.

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