Washington Case Law Update: Employer Not Strictly Liable for Missed Meal Breaks

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Washington Case Law Update: Employer Not Strictly Liable for Missed Meal Breaks

From the desk of John Kreutzer: Under the Washington Administrative Code (“WAC”), employees are entitled to a thirty minute meal period between the second and fifth hours of their shift. If an employee misses a meal break, is the employer automatically (i.e., strictly) liable? If not, who has the burden of proving that a violation of the WAC occurred? Read on to learn more.

Claims Pointer: In this case arising out of a meal break dispute, a federal court asked the Washington Supreme Court to answer two questions about the WAC regulations governing meal breaks. The Court determined that employers are not strictly liable for a missed meal break. The Court also determined that the employee has the initial burden of proving that a violation occurred by demonstrating that he or she missed a meal break, after which the employer may rebut by providing evidence showing that no violation occurred or that the employee validly waived his or her meal break. The case provides important clarity and guidance on how to handle employee meal breaks, an important daily consideration for many employers and their insurers.

Brady v. Autozone Stores, Inc., No. 93564-5, Washington Supreme Court (June 29, 2017)

In September 2013, Michael Brady (“Brady”) filed a class action complaint seeking unpaid wages for meal breaks that his employer, Autozone Inc. (“Autozone”) allegedly withheld from employees. Autozone sought and obtained removal to the federal district court, after which Brady moved to certify a class. The district court determined that Washington had not adopted a strict liability approach regarding meal breaks. Based on this determination, the district court denied Brady’s motion for class certification, reasoning that certifying a class was inappropriate in light of the unique fact scenarios associated with each potential violation of Washington’s meal break regulations. Brady then...

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