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California employers don’t have to force meal breaks

Recent case sides with employer in meal-break suit

For years, employment litigation in California has been fodder for discussions among lawyers. The state’s laws tend to favor employees in many areas of labor and employment law. But a recent decision in a California meal-break case gave employers some relief.

Several employees of concrete company Granite Rock had filed suit against their employer claiming Granite Rock did not provide them adequate meal breaks or pay them for the extra hour they worked by not taking the break. The plaintiffs sought more than $6 million in damages and penalties.

Granite Rock argued that it did provide the break times, but that some of its employees voluntarily chose to waive their rights to take them. The company said it wasn’t its duty to ensure the employees took those breaks.

Yesterday, the Santa Clara County Superior Court agreed with the defendant, saying in its decision it is not the employer’s duty to ensure employees are taking the breaks as long as the breaks are offered.

"We are pleased with Judge Kleinberg's ruling," said Alan Levins, a shareholder at Littler Mendelson and lead attorney for the defendant. "At the center of this case is the clarification of a critical wage and hour issue; that employers are required to make meal periods available to employees but are not required to force employees to take a lunch break."

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Cathleen Flahardy

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