On Thursday, April 12, you could hear a huge sigh of relief from the business community in the state of California regarding a state Supreme Court decision on whether businesses have to ensure that workers take legally-mandated breaks in Brinker Restaurant Corp. et al v. The Superior Court for the State of California for the County of San Diego.
In a unamious decision, the Supreme Court authorized a class of workers in the state to proceed with claims that they were denied proper rest breaks by Brinker International Inc., the parent company of Chili’s restaurant chain. With respect to the meal break claims, the court ruled that employers only have to provide meal periods to workers, not make sure employees actually take them. The decision can be found here.
Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote in the unanimous decision, “an employer must relieve the employee of all duty for the designated period, but need not ensure that the employee does not work.”
This decision is a huge victory for California businesses and employees alike. California employers and labor lawyers have been waiting three years for the high court to clarify the ambiguities in the state’s wage laws. Since their passage, class action lawsuits alleging violations of the state’s wage and hour laws have become one of the most commonly filed lawsuits in our state, targeting businesses both large and small. All it took to start the legal process was three current or former employees of a company.
CALA applauds the decision. This will be a huge step in the right direction for making California a little more business friendly. These wage and hour class actions were costing businesses around the state millions of dollars while the employees who brought the lawsuits often received very little. In one lawsuit I know of, the three employees who brought it got $7,500 apiece, the class of current and former employees got between 35 cents and $100, and the lawyers got $350,000. Does that sound fair to you?
Kudos to the California Supreme Court for stopping the abuse and making doing business in California a little better.