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A new trend in employment law, California companies have recently been experiencing a barrage of meal break lawsuits, challenging state labor rules and the extent to which an employer must provide time to rest.
One of these lawsuits, filed against Terminix, ended earlier this week with a federal judge approving a $1.5 million settlement that will compensate termite inspectors for overtime and missed meal breaks.
Brinker and Brinkley, two other multi-million dollar class-action meal break lawsuits, are also currently awaiting review by the state's highest court.
These two cases get to the heart of what's currently changing in the area of meal break law.
Though federal law does not require meal periods, a number of states mandate their existence, barring employers from using pressure or other means to discourage employees from taking breaks.
However, few of these laws touch on whether an employee must take advantage of a meal break.
Brinker and Brinkley deal with this exact problem, asking whether employers must merely make meal periods available, or if they must ensure that employees take the time to rest.
Thus far, a few of California's appellate courts have concluded that the state statute does not require such enforcement, but this is subject to change, and may not be applicable under your state's laws and court jurisprudence.
Because meal break lawsuits can be incredibly costly with penalties and back pay available as forms of recovery, it might be useful to consult with a labor attorney so that you can create a company policy and fully understand obligations imposed by the law.