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California Supreme Court issues opinion on employee meal breaks

It’s your lunch break and you can do what you want with it. That’s the message that the California Supreme Court recently sent with an opinion in a lawsuit filed against a large company.

Earlier this month on our San Diego employment law blog, we mentioned that vague and complex meal-break laws in California have led to several lawsuits in the state against employers who were accused of failing to provide workers with meal and rest breaks. One lawsuit was filed by five Chili’s employees in 2004 who claimed that Chili’s failed to make sure employees were taking breaks they were legally entitled to take during their work shifts.

The plaintiffs in the case, as well as other workers’ attorneys, argued before the high court that companies often abuse meal-break laws and take advantage of employees who feel obligated to continue to work through breaks.

In its ruling last week, the California Supreme Court agreed with Chili’s and other companies saying that employers should not have to make their employees take their allotted meals breaks. If an employee decides they want to use some of that time to do tend to additional work, an employer should not be blamed for that decision.

While employers will not step in and force California employees to take their meal breaks, employees need to know their rights to make sure they are being treated fairly. All companies are required to provide employees with a 30-minute window of time to serve as a meal break, free from the duties of the job.

The vice president of the company that owns Chili’s said he was pleased with the recent opinion because his company utilizes the flexibility of allowing employees to spend their meal breaks as they wish.

Source: The Associated Press, “Court: Managers don’t have to ensure lunch breaks,” Jason Dearen, April 12, 2012

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