In December of 2004, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (“DLSE”) proposed significant regulations regarding the state meal period requirements. The regulations were designed to interpret the rules contained in the Labor Code and to provide guidance to employees and employers. They were also designed to offer employees greater flexibility with respect to meal periods. Following public comment and hearings, the DLSE revised its proposed regulations several times.

On Friday, January 13, 2006, the Schwarzenegger Administration announced that it would not seek to finalize the proposed regulations by submitting them to the Office of Administrative Law (“OAL”). The announcement indicated that recent decisions of appellate courts had agreed with one feature of the proposed regulations that regarded the sanctions for meal period and rest period violations as “penalties” rather than “wages” for purposes of the applicable statute of limitations. Noting that the need for a regulation clarifying that issue was significantly reduced by the court decisions, the DLSE stated that it had not given up on the subject entirely. Rather, it announced its intention to “fine tune” the regulations to better serve workers and offer clearer guidance to their employers. The DLSE also made it clear that regulations “remain necessary” in order to provide enforcement officials with clarity in the area. As a result, the DLSE indicated it would work with all parties to formulate a new regulatory package.

It is apparent that Governor Schwarzenegger’s failure to obtain voter approval of his ballot measures in the November election affected the Administration’s stance on the meal period regulations. It is not entirely clear when a new proposal will be announced, what it will include, or when it will take effect. The existing law and issues that employers face will be addressed at the upcoming Wage and Hour Seminars by Castle Publications, Ltd. in conjunction with Sheppard Mullin that are scheduled for Northern and Southern California in January and February.