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Many employers use rounding to adjust an employee’s work hours to the nearest whole time increment, such as five or ten minutes. Employers beware! However, in a newly published decision, timekeeping rounding must not apply to meal periods.

California employers must provide employees with a 30-minute, uninterrupted meal period that begins no later than the end of the fifth hour of work. If an employee is not provided the timely and uninterrupted meal period, the employee is due one hour of premium pay.

In the case of Donohue v. AMN Services, LLC, the California Supreme Court ruled against an employer’s timekeeping practice of rounding meal period timeclock punches. The Court further held noncompliant meal periods results in a rebuttable presumption of liability against the employer at the summary judgment stage.

AMN used an electronic timekeeping system to track employees’ compensable time. Employees used their computers to punch in and out at the beginning and end of lunch. Employees could also ask to manually adjust any inaccurate time punches, such as forgetting to clock out for lunch. The computer system automatically rounded employee time punches to the nearest 10-minute increment.

The Supreme Court used the following example to illustrate how AMN recorded meal break punches:

“[I]f an employee clocked out for lunch at 11:02 a.m. and clocked in after lunch at 11:25 a.m., [AMN’s timekeeping software] would have recorded the time punches as 11:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Although the actual meal period was 23 minutes, [AMN’s timekeeping software] would have recorded the meal period as 30 minutes.” Another example is if an employee clocked in for work at 6:59 a.m. and clocked out for lunch at 12:04 p.m., the system would record those time punches as 7:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. In this example, the employee would have begun their meal period after five hours and five minutes of work, but the timekeeping system would not have recorded that violation.

The California Supreme Court ruled that it is the employer’s responsibility to implement compliant meal period policies that allow employees to take the full, uninterrupted 30-minute meal period without reduction of any kind, including from neutral rounding timekeeping practices.

Further, an employer’s timekeeping policy must ensure that the employee being relieved from duty for a 30-minute meal period is accurately reflected in the employer’s time records.

Employers using rounding systems should consult with legal counsel before continuing such practice. If you have questions about your business’s rounding or timekeeping policies and procedures and would like to determine if your practices comply with the Supreme Court’s decision and applicable law, contact Schneiders & Associates, L.L.P. to speak with an employment law expert.  

By: Ted Schneider, Esq.

About the Author
Theodore J. Schneider practices in the areas of business and corporate transactions, employment law counseling, municipal and public law, real estate and land use, and homeowner associations. Ted began his legal career in 2002 when he joined the Los Angeles office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, L.L.P. before relocating to Ventura County to join his father in practice.