Certain Airline Cabin Crew are Exempted From California Meal and Rest Periods

In California, all non-exempt employees are entitled to meal and rest breaks after working a certain number of hours. California meal and rest period requirements do not apply to exempt employees. In California, the widely-known group of exempt employees is white-collar employees who;

  • Spend over 50% of their work time doing administrative, intellectual, or creative work,
  • Often exercise discretion and independent judgment when performing their work, and
  • Earn a monthly salary equal to at least two times the state’s minimum wage for full-time employment.

Apart from these employees, California’s meal and rest breaks do not apply to independent contractors and unionized employees in some industries whose collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) contain provisions for such breaks on a different schedule. In March 2023, the Governor of California added cabin crew employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement under the Railway Labor Act, which covers meal and rest breaks for airline workers, to the list of employees to who the state’s meal and rest period requirements do not apply. This happened after the governor signed Senate Bill 41. If you are an airline employer or employee, it is crucial that you understand the application of this new Bill as it pertains to meals and rest breaks. Read on to learn more.

California Meal and Rest Period Requirements

Non-exempt employees in California have the right to be given an unpaid half-hour meal break after working for more than five hours. Employees who work more than ten hours a day must be granted a second unpaid half-hour meal break. Regarding rest breaks, the law requires employers to provide non-exempt employees with a rest period of no less than ten minutes for every four hours worked or a substantial fraction thereof. Unlike meal breaks, rest periods must be paid time.

It is important to note that workers can waive their right to meal breaks. An employee who will work for, at most, five hours in the day can waive their right to a meal break. If an employee will not work for more than 12 hours and they took their first meal break, they can opt not to have their second meal break.

Senate Bill 41

Under Senate Bill 41, if an airline cabin crew employee is covered by a valid CBA under the Railway Labor Act and that agreement covers meal and rest breaks for airline workers, the employee is not entitled to meal and rest breaks under California’s Labor Code. In other words, the requirements described in the previous section do not apply to airline cabin crew employees covered by CBAs under the Railway Labor Act if those CBAs provide meal and rest breaks for airline workers.

After SB 41 was signed on March 23, 2023, it went into effect immediately. This Bill was declared an urgent statute.

In conclusion, you should know that while Senate Bill 41 relieves employers from the strict meal and rest breaks, this Bill also gives labor unions representing cabin crew employees an advantage when bargaining.

Contact a California Employment Lawyer

Please contact a California employment lawyer if you need more information on Senate Bill 41 or help with a meal or rest period violation case.