Employers no longer responsible for skipped breaks

((AP Photo/Lee Jin-man))
April 12, 2012 6:59:35 PM PDT
The California Supreme Court made a unanimous ruling Thursday that affects millions of workers and their lunch breaks.

It depends on your perspective -- companies see this as a victory, while many workers see this as a setback to workers' rights.

From construction workers to restaurant servers, virtually anyone making an hourly wage, the California Supreme Court ruling means your boss is no longer obligated to make sure you take your lunch and rest breaks. The decision is a relief especially for restaurant owners like Mark Platt who owns Land Ocean and Sienna. He found it tough to balance customer's needs and employee breaks mandated after a five-hour shift.

"'You really spend your whole shift babysitting making sure that these people have gotten their breaks," said Platt. "They were supposed to be paid one hour of pay for that half-hour break they didn't get. So the penalties add up."

The lawsuit was brought on by employees of Brinker, which owns Chili's and other eateries, who said missed breaks were a violation of California labor law. Labor unions are now concerned people giving up rest periods are risking their health and sometimes safety and may create a situation that'll pit worker against worker.

"With ones willing to work without breaks, and one needs that time to rest from physical labor or other kinds of jobs, which worker is going to get preference? Which worker is going to get promoted? Which worker is going to get a raise?" said Caitlin Vega from the California Labor Federation.

But California companies say the high court's decision will provide a better business climate in this state, where workers were constantly suing for break violations.

"We are hoping that his ruling will put an end to the frivolous lawsuits that have been plaguing California employers regarding the meal and rest break rules," said Erika Frank from the California Chamber of Commerce.

Restaurant server Jesseca Hardy likes the flexibility of determining the timing of her own breaks. She often feels bad about leaving her customers when she has to take a mandatory rest period.

"It's impossible to have to walk away from your table. You feel like you've abandoned them. You feel did a poor job," said Hard.

Workers' attorneys believe abuses will be routine and widespread if companies are not required to issue direct orders to take breaks.


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