Since year 2000, Californians have watched an almost never ending wave of lawsuits over workers’ rights to meal and rest breaks. As one of the pioneers of this field, now well over 20 years ago, this author has seen (and compelled) big changes in how companies respond within this evolving legal area, and yet, many businesses still claim they’re confused regarding when breaks should be taken and/or what policies they should adopt to ensure workers are getting this important time off. As one of the attorneys heavily involved in Augustus v. ABM (i.e., the Supreme Court ruling affirming workers’ rights to breaks), I have seen the power of a stern legal warning to employers.
Most employers acknowledge that a 10 minute rest period is required every four hours (or major fraction thereof) and a 30 minute meal period is required for all hourly workers for all 5+ hour workdays, with limited exceptions. After that, their understanding often gets fuzzy.
For example, many employers seem confused as to when a second meal or third rest period is warranted, or under what circumstances employees may waive or forego them. And almost no employers do a very good job ensuring their employees are relieved of all responsibilities during those breaks. Indeed, keeping employees under the control of the employer (e.g., staying watchful for customers) is what gives rise to most of today’s litigation.
For employees not consistently receiving all meal and rest breaks, or having their breaks shortened or not received on time, these lawsuits can be extremely financially lucrative. Indeed, more times than I can count, workers in our firm’s cases have received thousands upon thousands of dollars, sometimes after very brief periods of litigation, or no litigation at all. Combine that fact with the potential existence of other violations (e.g., the failure to pay all overtime wages) that traditionally accompany break violations, and you can see why this is an area of law that should be around for a very long time.