In Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Productions, the California Supreme Court unanimously decided that the extra pay California employees receive when meal and rest periods are not properly given is a form of “wages,” rather than a “penalty.” Nevermind that you don’t have to do any work to earn the “wage.” If your meal period starts 5 minutes later than the law allows, you get the extra hour’s pay. If your meal period is two minutes too short, you get the extra hour’s pay, even if you are being paid for the 2 minutes of extra work you performed. The Legislature apparently intended this penalty to be a wage because it meted out the penalty’s value in terms of an hour’s pay. If the Legislature had required the penalty to be paid in shrimp, I guess the Court would have called the penalty a bouillabaisse. Why does anyone care about this? The statute of limitations for unpaid “wages” (now including meal period pay) is three years. The statute of limitations for penalty claims is just one year.