California trucking companies will be required to give drivers a 30-minute meal period within the first five hours of driving, according to the California Supreme Court's decision in the case of Brinker v. Superior Court.

The ruling obligates employers to ensure employees take the breaks, but it does not penalize employees for voluntarily working instead of taking the break.

"The court's decision means that trucking companies will still have to 'provide' drivers with off-duty meal breaks at set times," says Michael Shaw, vice president, external affairs, for the California Trucking Association. "This will strait-jacket truckers and jeopardize highway safety by requiring them to pull off the road to take off-duty 30-minute meal breaks at rigid times set by the meal and rest break rules, regardless of traffic and other road conditions."

The decision, which covers non-exempt employees in all industries who perform work in California, requires employers to provide an opportunity for a 30-minute meal period within the first 5 hours of work each day and, if the employee works another 5 hours that day, a second such break within the second 5 hours.

The decision also held that the employer must provide 10-minute rest breaks generally every four hours, but don't need to ensure rest breaks precede meal breaks.

"Responsible trucking companies already know the value of ensuring drivers are properly rested and allowed time to eat," Shaw says. "Trucking companies already comply with strict federal laws that were recently amended to increase time to rest. The California rules at issue in the Brinker case only make highway safety harder to achieve."