Rounding of employee time punches has been a legally accepted timekeeping practice under California and federal law, provided that overtime rounding did not result in a failure to pay employees for all of the time they have actually worked. However, on February 25, 2021, the California Supreme Court in Donohue v. AMS Services, LLC ruled that rounding of time entries in the context of meal periods is not allowed. The Court also held that the records showing non-compliant meal periods raise a rebuttable presumption of meal period violations which prevent the employer from seeking summary judgment.
Under California law, employers must generally provide employees with the opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break whenever an employee works more than five hours (or ten hours for second meal periods). If the employee works less than six hours, the meal period can be waived by mutual consent. When a meal period is required, it must be provided before the end of the fifth hour of work (or the tenth hour for the second meal period). If an employer does not provide an employee with a timely and full 30-minute meal period, then the employer must pay the employee one hour premium as compensation.
Rounding of Time Entries
The Supreme Court in Donahue considered rounding to be contrary to strict adherence to the requirement of providing a timely and full uninterrupted meal period. The court reasoned that providing a longer meal period one day does not offset a short or delayed meal period on another day. If an employer’s time records show a missed, short, or delayed meal period, then a rebuttable presumption arises that the employer failed to provide a proper meal period. The employer can rebut the presumption by providing evidence that the employee was provided a proper meal period but waived the opportunity to take the break.
With advancements in timekeeping technology, the Supreme Court has begun exhibiting skepticism, if not hostility, to the rounding of time entries. Although the court did not overturn recent cases upholding the ability to round time entries for the start and the end of the day, the court seems headed in that direction. Whether in the context of employee COVID-19 screening, the routine start and end of the workday, or meal periods, employers should analyze their timekeeping practices to ensure all hours worked are accurately recorded. In the context of meal periods, employers should ensure their timekeeping practices do not rely on rounding to determine whether a proper meal period was provided, and enable the employer to identify when meal periods are recorded as short, late, or missed. At the time a non-compliant meal period is recorded, employees should be required to confirm whether they were provided a timely and full meal period but voluntarily chose to work instead, or whether a meal period premium is owed.
If you are dealing with a wage and hour claim or if you need to determine whether your timekeeping practices comport with Donohue decision, contact the attorneys at Cook Brown LLP.