Last week, the California Supreme Court made a common sense decision that will be good for California employers and employees. The ruling eliminates a major complaint that businesses and business organizations, like the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, have been urging the California Legislature to address for years.

In a unanimous ruling, the court stated that employers must make duty-free meal and rest breaks available to employees, but cannot be held liable if employees decide to work instead of rest. “We conclude an employer’s obligation is to relieve its employee of all duty, with the employee thereafter at liberty to use the meal period for whatever purpose he or she desires, but the employer need not ensure that no work is done,” Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar wrote for the court.

California law requires employers to provide hourly employees with meal and rest breaks or pay overtime for the extra time worked. The ruling clarifies that employers must provide a meal break no later than five hours into an employee’s shift, but employers are not responsible for policing their employees to makes sure that they do not work during meal breaks.

The L.A. Area Chamber applauds this common sense decision and urges Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature to consider other wage and hour regulations that are out of step with the rest of the nation and progressive workplace environments. The current laws were initiated to protect employees, but the unintended consequence is that they also discourage individual initiative and limit the ability of employers and employees to develop a flexible work schedule that is a win-win for both.

In most other states, overtime is based on a 40-hour work week. In California, it is based on an eight-hour work day. When an hourly employee with a five-day, eight-hour work day schedule would like to leave work two hours early on Wednesday in order to attend a soccer game or piano concert for a child and make up that two hours at another time during the week, the answer from a supervisor is likely to be no. Not because the supervisor wants to say no, but because state law says that when that employee works more than eight hours during any day, the employer is liable for overtime pay, even if the total hours worked for the week does not exceed 40 hours.

Surveys show that employees greatly value a working environment in which they have flexibility. They also value employers that appreciate the obligations that come with being an involved parent. California law is stuck in the dark ages and does not encourage such behavior.

The California Supreme Court issued a common sense ruling last week. We encourage Gov. Brown and the Legislature to look for other common sense solutions that are good for employers and good for employees … and for the California economy.