Commentary: Meal Breaks Must be Flexible

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, May 8, 2009

Even if they are groundless, the meal break lawsuits have cost California businesses a bundle. Most of the lawsuits involve the definition of "provide." Do businesses merely have to make a meal break available to their workers, or do they have to actively ensure that workers stop working and eat before beginning their fifth hour on the job?

That’s not so easy a task as someone who doesn't run a business might imagine. For example, if the worker eats at her desk, does that count as a meal break? Does the worker have to turn off his computer to ensure that he's not working during the break? How does an employer who has hundreds or thousands of workers, document that everyone takes a break when they are supposed to?

 The issue has become a litigation minefield for businesses. A bill in the legislature would help. It defines "provide" as making a meal break available without interference.

Organized labor opposes meal break reform and this sensible measure. Majority democrats have been loath to cross their labor allies. But fair minded legislators must recognize, inflexible meal break rules waste money and cost jobs, and that's not good for business or labor.


Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.