Foodservice Equipment Reports

Court Says Lunch Breaks Are Mandatory, But Employers Can’t Enforce Them

You can lead a server to the break table, but…oh, never mind. The California Supreme Court ruled April 12 that employers are under no obligation to ensure that workers take legally mandated lunch and rest breaks.

The unanimous opinion in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court clarified state law on an employer's obligations to ensure workers actually take their legally required meal and rest breaks. The justices unanimously concluded that labor laws clearly obligate employers to provide meal and rest breaks but rejected the argument that they must make sure those breaks are work-free. The justices said businesses cannot be sued if employees opt to work through breaks, as long as they do not "impede or discourage" workers from taking breaks.

Plaintiffs claimed that abuses are routine when companies aren’t required to issue direct orders to take the breaks. But the high court sided with businesses by ruling that requiring companies to order breaks is unmanageable. The court also determined a first meal break must take place no later than five hours into a worker's shift.

The decision concludes an eight-year court battle but the ruling could affect not just thousands of Brinker waiters, waitresses, bartenders and cooks across California, but hourly workers in every business sector.  The decision also will shape an increasing number of class action lawsuits being filed by low-wage workers against California businesses accused of meal and rest-break violations.

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