A recently passed amendment to the California Labor Code protects the 12-hour workday favored by many healthcare workers and facilities.
Senate Bill 327, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month, affirms a long-standing state rule drafted by the Industrial Welfare Commission that allows healthcare workers to voluntarily waive their right to one of two required meal periods on shifts longer than eight hours. Lawmakers introduced the bill after unions and providers expressed concern about an appellate court ruling that said California hospitals were in violation of state law when they allowed workers to waive meal breaks during shifts that go even a minute over 12 hours.
The California Court of Appeals said in February that the Welfare Commission rule, which was adopted over 20 years ago, conflicts with a later-drafted provision of the state's Labor Code requiring two meal periods for shifts over 12 hours. The ruling came in a case brought on by three healthcare workers against Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif.
The court's ruling was retroactive, which meant that without the Labor Code amendment hospitals would have been at risk for significant litigation regarding staff who were allowed to waive their meals over the past four years. The California Hospital Association estimated that potential liability would have been “in the millions of dollars,” as hospitals would be responsible for missed meal premiums on any day an employee worked over the 12-hour mark.
Hospital association officials said an amendment was necessary as hospitals contemplated extending shifts to 13 hours to accommodate a mandatory off-duty meal period or reverting to eight-hour shifts. Twelve-hour shifts are very common in both unionized and non-unionized environments, and the California Hospital Association pointed out that it's not uncommon for nurses to start their shift a couple minutes early or end it a couple minutes late.
Officials at the United Nurses Association of California/Union of Healthcare Professionals and the California Nurses Association didn't return requests for comment, but the bill was largely backed by both unions and management.