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Employers may be sued for failing to provide employee breaks

Many employers may be interested to learn that the City Los Angeles has agreed to a $26 million settlement with more than a thousand of the city's sanitation workers. The workers had joined together in a class-action lawsuit against the city government over a ban on lunchtime breaks that they argued was a violation of state law. The California Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that employers must provide workers with uninterrupted breaks and must neither discourage nor impede the mandated break periods.

Sources say that sanitation workers were barred from eating together in large groups or sleeping in their trucks during break periods. Since these restrictions were alleged to be in violation of the aforementioned ruling as well as other state laws, the workers joined together to sue the city. The City Council reportedly decided to settle on the advice of legal counsel, which warned that allowing the case to proceed to trial could ultimately prove far more costly.

This case is just one of several such labor disputes in California. In another recent ruling, the California Supreme Court agreed to allow some employees to claim damages over missing meal breaks. Apple Inc. is also facing a lawsuit from employees alleging that they were denied rest breaks.

These cases and others like them illustrate some of the difficulties that employers might encounter in negotiating work conditions with their employees. In order to avoid such circumstances and mitigate the threat of a future lawsuit, employers in a comparable situation may wish to include provisions for breaks and meal times in their contracts with employees as well as in their employee manuals. An attorney may be able to facilitate the drafting of such documents to ensure that the employer's practices and guidelines are in accord with state labor laws.

Source: The Bakersfield Californian, "HOLLY CULHANE: Give workers a break, or face the consequences", Holly Culhane, August 27, 2014

Source: The Bakersfield Californian, "HOLLY CULHANE: Give workers a break, or face the consequences", Holly Culhane, August 27, 2014

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