The California Supreme Court said today that employers are under no legal obligation to ensure that workers take a legally mandated lunch and rest breaks.
But they must give them an opportunity to do so.
The decision will have far-reaching impact on retail, hospitality and other business in the state, according to lawyers who followed this case and were at the state Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in November.
Basically, Attorney Dana Peterson, of the law firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP in San Francisco, said in an interview that the Supreme Court's decision allows employees to give workers the opportunity to take a 30-minute lunch breaks rather than ensuring that workers actually take them in order to comply with state law.
Ms. Peterson said the lunch break opportunity must come no later than at the end of the fifth hour of work.
"You have to make it available," she said.
This means that a worker can't be asked to perform work or any other work-related task while during the 30-minute lunch opportunity, said Ms. Peterson.
The complaint was certified as a class-action complaint with 63,000 former and current employees. Originally, the lawsuit was filed by five employees who claimed the company illegally denied them meal breaks for every five hours worked, according to court documents.
Brinker officials have also argued that meal periods only be provided, allowing workers to pass on their breaks and continue working if they choose.
The case of Brinker Restaurant vs. Superior Court of San Diego is a wage and hour case that stems from a workplace-related dispute that landed in the courts nine years ago, according to court documents.
Restaurant workers of Brinker International, the parent company of Chili's and other restaurants, complained that they missed breaks in violation of California labor laws, according to the lawsuit.
A copy of the Supreme Court opinion can be viewed at: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions.htm