Court: Employers Don't Have to Ensure Lunch Breaks

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The California Supreme Court has ruled that employees do not have to take lunch breaks.

The ruling, issued Thursday, comes after attorneys argued that abuses are routine and widespread when companies aren't required to issue direct orders to take breaks.

But the high court sided with businesses, saying that requiring companies to order breaks is unmanageable and that those decisions should be left to workers.

The case was initially filed nine years ago against Brinker International, the parent company of Chili's and other eateries, by restaurant workers complaining of missed breaks in violation of California labor law.

The opinion, written by Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar, explained that state law does not compel an employer to ensure employees cease all work during meal periods.

It stated that while employers are required to free workers of job duties for a 30-minute break, the employee is at liberty to use the time as they choose even if it's to work, she wrote.

"The employer is not obligated to police meal breaks and ensure no work thereafter is performed," Werdegar wrote.

Tracee Lorens, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said she believed the court's decision still allowed some wiggle room for the case to get class-action certification on the meal break claims.

California's restaurant owners applauded the court's decision as a helpful guidance in determining their obligations to employees.

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