Taco Bell Employee Discount Policy Did Not Violate California Meal Breaks Law, 9th Cir. Rules

Author: Michael Cardman, XpertHR Legal Editor

August 2, 2018

California law requires that employees be relieved of all duty during meal breaks. As a result, an employer typically may not require employees to remain on the premises.

However, a Taco Bell policy under which employees could purchase discounted food on the condition that they agree to eat it in the restaurant did not violate California's meal breaks law, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

"Taco Bell relieved their employees of all duties during the meal break period and exercised no control over their activities within the meaning of California law," the 9th Circuit concluded in Rodriguez v. Taco Bell.

The 9th Circuit cited the facts that employee participation in the discounted meals program was completely voluntary and that there was no evidence that Taco Bell pressured its employees to purchase the discounted meals.

The Rodriguez ruling sets a clear precedent for employers with similar meal-discount programs. It remains to be seen whether it may be applied to employers that offer other voluntary benefits. For example, the 9th Circuit referred to a 2000 ruling in which the California Supreme Court held that an employer "may provide optional free transportation to employees without having to pay them for their travel time, as long as employers do not require employees to use this transportation."