No More Rounding Timeclock Punches For Meal Periods


By Jennifer Jacobus, PHRca, SDEA Director of HR Services.  

SDEA has long recommended that employers steer clear of rounding practices when it comes to timekeeping.  While rounding practices have mostly been permissible in California when administered correctly, rounding can lend itself to employees being shorted on their wages and not taking the full mandated 30-minute meal period.

According to a recent ruling in California’s Supreme Court, employers are now prohibited from rounding timeclock punches on their employee’s meal periods.  “To avoid liability, an employer must provide its employees with full and timely meal periods whenever those meal periods are required,” the California Supreme Court said, noting that “even a minor infringement of the meal period triggers the premium pay obligation”.

California has strict requirements on the timing and length of meal breaks.  When it comes to determining the 30-minute duty-free meal period, every minute counts.  Employers are required to offer an unpaid, duty-free meal period for every five hours of work.  If the employee’s work period does not exceed six hours, the employee and the employer may mutually agree to waive the meal period.  The meal period must begin before the end of the fifth hour of work.

Employers who do not provide a full meal period, including if the meal period is less than 30 minutes or if the meal period is not provided at all, must pay a “premium” of one hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate. The Supreme Court explained that the rules are “concerned with small amounts of time” and thus “[s]mall rounding errors can amount to a significant infringement on an employee’s right to a 30-minute meal period.” Accordingly, “[a] premium pay scheme that discourages employers from infringing on meal periods by even a few minutes cannot be reconciled with a policy that counts those minutes as negligible rounding errors.”

While this ruling implies that it only applies to the meal period, rounding practices are a targeted area in California wage and hour claims.  Employers are encouraged to re-visit their timekeeping practices and at minimum, make sure that your non-exempt employees are getting at least a 30-minute uninterrupted meal period. Rounding methods made sense when employers were tracking time worked with physical timecards, but with modern technology the practice has less viable reasoning, and is therefore ripe for litigation.

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