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Workers Responsible for Taking Breaks, Court Rules

The California Supreme Court says that employers are not obligated to ensure staff take their mandated breaks. Workers argue that abuse is rampant. What do you think?

Imagine a packed coffee shop with a long line. Three staff members are bustling behind the counter and serving customers. One them is owed a break, right now, just as another five people walk through the door.

Who is responsible for making sure that the worker takes his or her break? Well, according to a California Supreme Court ruling Thursday on mandated labor breaks, the employee is the one who has to rally for a rest. Although an employer must allow for mandated lunch and rest breaks, the boss is not obligated to order staff to take them.

But workers say that this poses a problem when leaving for a break would cause an inconvenience to co-workers and managers alike, such as during the 8 a.m. coffee rush. As a courtesy to colleagues, and to get in the boss's good books, employees might take their breaks early, late or not at all.

California labor law requires workers to take paid rest breaks of at least 10 consecutive minutes for each four hours worked, as close to the middle of a shift as possible. For a shift over five hours in a day, employees are entitled to a meal break of at least 30 minutes, which, however, workers can choose to waive as long as they don't work more than six hours in the workday. 

As an employee, have you ever experienced not being able to take your mandated breaks? As an employer, what are the challenges of scheduling breaks? Who should take responsibility?

Randy Merrell April 13, 2012 at 02:04 PM
California labor law is a jumbled mess of mine fields which does nothing but put honest employers in the path of "employees" who have only one thing in mind....to rip off the very people who have given them a job. Has it occurred to anyone that these "owners" are just people, trying to feed their families and provide job opportunities to the community? If most people tried to find and understand the applicable employment law sections, they would throw up their hands and give up. Why should you have to hire an army of attorneys just to hire a couple of employees to serve coffee for a few hours a day?
Marshall Cochrane April 15, 2012 at 02:23 AM
I disagree that all employees are out to rip off the business owner. The majority of employees are hardworking people who want to be able to contribute to the bottomline excellence of the task at which they are involved...Yeh, there are some slackers but it certainly is not the majority...The insidious element of this ruling is that management can acknowledge those employees who purposely bypass breaks with subtle positive reinforcement for missing a break...promote the people who are dedicated (work right through breaks). Layoff people who are taking breaks, for other stated reasons...I fear that this could prove to be a slippery slope....before you know it, everyone will stop taking breaks in order to be more competitive, please management and protect their jobs.
Randy Merrell April 15, 2012 at 04:51 AM
Did I say "all employees"? Don't think so. I said the labor laws are a mine field. Management appreciates good employees, and don't want to see them burn out. Only an incredibly dumb business owner/manager would fire a good employee who takes the break they need and deserve. I have been an employer for close to 30 years and I've never had a single employee come to me and complain about not getting enough breaks. But any employee I've ever had who takes advantage of the flexibility we have offered doesn't last long. All I'm saying here though is that the labor laws, especially in CA, are so complex, it's hard to comply. Employers are sitting ducks.

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