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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Restaurants Must Give Employees Breaks Every Five Hours, State Supreme Court Rules

Posted By on Thu, Apr 12, 2012 at 5:11 PM

Don't worry, you will get a break in five hours
  • Don't worry, you will get a break in five hours

Anyone who's ever waited 20 minutes for a drink refill or extra sauce understands the frustration of having an overworked waiter. Usually the server takes the brunt of the teeth-grinding, and somebody at the table says something like, "Jeez, where is he at?" or "I guess he doesn't want a good tip."

Well, there's a chance that that waiter was working nine consecutive hours -- with no break.

But that probably won't be happening anymore.

The California Supreme Court ruled today that restaurants must provide workers with a meal and rest for every five hours of labor, affirming a lower court's decision that bans employers from forcing workers to take their break early in the shift so that they can work for longer stretches.

The ruling, however, stated that an employer is not obligated to make sure that employees actually take that break.

First filed in 2004, the class action lawsuit charged Brinker International, owner of Chili's and Romano's Macaroni Grill, with violating state labor laws by requiring employees to take their break at the beginning of their shift, causing them to work as much as nine straight hours.

The suit also claimed that employees often worked off-the-clock, including through break periods. As such, the plaintiffs argued that it is an employer's responsibility to ensure that workers use their break -- this prevents cases where workers may feel indirectly pressured to work through a break for fear of losing their job.

The high court concluded, though, that the entire point of a break is to temporarily release an employee from the authority of the boss.

"The obligation to ensure employees do no work may in some instances be inconsistent with the fundamental employer obligations associated with a meal break: to relieve the employee of all duty and relinquish any employer control over the employee and how he or she spends the time," wrote Judge Kathryn Werdegar in the unanimous decision.

Indeed, the court seems to suggest, a precedence for employer authority over a worker's behavior during a break brings to mind a dystopian scenario of "Mandated Relaxation Periods," complete with motion sensor chairs and elevator jazz pouring from breakroom speakers.

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Albert Samaha


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