California Supreme Court Rules that Employers Need Not Force Workers to Take Meal Breaks

Recent years have seen a proliferation of lawsuits brought by lawyers who make their money from wage disputes for such things as the employer’s failure to provide its employees with breaks.  Statutorily, employees are entitled to certain breaks during their work day.  The question was whether the state of California (the “nanny” state) may require that employers mandate and ensure that those breaks are taken.  That issue came before the California Supreme Court in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court.  Workers’ attorneys argued that abuses are routine and wide spread when companies aren’t required to issue direct orders to take breaks.  The case was filed approximately nine years ago against a parent company of Chili’s restaurant (Brinker International) and other restaurants, and alleged that the companies had deprived their workers of meal breaks in violation of California labor law.  The court unanimously ruled on April 12, 2012, that although employers must free workers of job duties for the required 30-minute meal break, employers are “not obligated to police meal breaks and ensure no work thereafter is performed.”  A management side employment lawyer termed the decision one that will free employers from the “specter of frivolous lawsuits  . . . [the] only clear losers today are the lawyers who make their money off of wage class-action lawsuits.”

References:  Human Resource Executive and AP News.

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