One reason you may want to make sure employees take their meal breaks: You could end up in a lawsuit if you don’t.
That’s especially true in states where the laws surrounding meals are ambiguous and confusing — like California.
As Nathan Koppel points out at The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog, there’s certainly a lot of wiggle room in California law when it comes to meal breaks.
Recent court rulings in California have said companies cannot pressure employees to skip meal breaks — or establish a work environment discouraging or preventing employees from taking such breaks.
And yet companies are not required to ensure employees take meal breaks. They are only required to make them available to workers.
The tales of two companies
Sounds like there’s a lot of room in there for employers to get lost. And those kinds of laws are generally breeding grounds for expensive lawsuits.
Two painful situations Cali employers found themselves in when they didn’t make employees take meal breaks:
- Terminix just agreed to pay a $1.5 million settlement to workers who claimed they’d been required to work without rest or meal periods.
- Granite Rock Company was sued for more than $6 million by workers claiming not to have gotten meal periods or additional pay for the time they spend working during what would’ve been their meal breaks. In this case, the company prevailed by proving it did offer meal breaks to its workers. They just chose to work through them.
That last case goes to show that when laws are left open to interpretation, there will be employees who’ll jump at the chance to profit.
One way to eliminate that threat in cases like this: Consider requiring employees to take breaks. It could’ve saved these companies a lot of time, aggravation and money.
Source: “Food for Litigation: Companies Sued for Failing to Provide Meal Breaks,” by Nathan Koppel, The Wall Street Journal Law Blog, 8/30/11.