California Court Says Employees Can Work Through Lunch

employee screening blogCalifornia employment laws have long stated that employers must provide employees with a meal break. But the law was unclear regarding whether employees are prohibited from performing work during that time, or if they may work if they choose to.

A San Diego Superior Court decided that they may indeed engage in work during their meal breaks. The court ruled that employers fulfill their obligation when they give employees a 30 minute break and relieve them of all duties, give up control of their activities and when the employer gives a “reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so.”

If the employer does all that, and employees still want to work, they have the right to do so. The unanimous ruling was seen as a victory for employers. Another part of the decision specifies that employees must get one meal break for every 10 hours of work, rather than a break for every five hours, as some employee advocate groups had argued.

Employers will no longer be required to “babysit” employees, say some. As long as they make meal breaks available and encourage employees to take them, they are not liable for claims brought by employees that they didn’t receive them.

Employers are not allowed to apply pressure or provide incentives to work without breaks. And they must pay employees for any work performed. However, they are liable only for straight pay, not overtime pay—unless the extra 30 minutes puts the employee in an overtime situation.

The ruling came as a result of an eight-year legal battle against the company that owns Chili’s restaurants, for allegedly requiring employees to work through meal and rest breaks. Employees claimed that they were made to clock out for breaks, but to continue working through them.

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