Employers not liable if workers skip breaks, court rules


California employers must make it possible for workers to take scheduled breaks but cannot be held liable if employees decide to work instead of rest, the California Supreme Court decided Thursday.

The state high court ruling came amid a proliferation of lawsuits brought by California workers against a wide range of employers, particularly in the restaurant industry, that had sparked anxiety among business owners.

Tens of thousands of workers have contended that companies evade state labor law requirements by making it impossible to take scheduled breaks. Employers have countered that they should not be forced to police their workers as long as breaks are scheduled and made available.

“We conclude an employer’s obligation is to relieve its employee of all duty, with the employee thereafter at liberty to use the meal period for whatever purpose he or she desires, but the employer need not ensure that no work is done,” Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar wrote for a unanimous court.

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