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Court to decide: Are meal-break waivers legal?

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in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

Here’s an important case to watch if some of your em­­ployees can’t take regular meal breaks. The Court of Appeal of California will soon determine if an agreement requiring employees to eat while working (and being paid) violates California labor codes for one class of employees.

Recent case: Josie and thousands of others worked as security guards for Boyd & Associates. Josie filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of herself and 4,000 current and former security guards working for the company in Southern California. The suit alleged they had all been denied meal breaks.

She told the court that she and the others had all signed agreements that stated they would not take unpaid, fully relieved meal breaks because their jobs required them to remain on duty at all times. She alleged—and the company admitted—that none of them ever had an unpaid, off-duty meal break.

Boyd tried to get the class action dismissed, arguing that each case should be decided individually. Josie countered that since everyone signed the same agreement, a class action would be a better way to handle the case.

The court agreed with Josie. It said the next step will be to decide whether the agreement to forgo unpaid and off-duty meal breaks is legal.

While the law provides an exception when the nature of the work makes off-duty meals difficult or impossible, whether that applies to all 4,000 class members is the next question the court will decide. (Faulkinbury v. Boyd & Associates, No. G041702, Court of Appeal of California, 4th Appellate District, 2013)

Final note: Hopefully, the court will provide solid guidance on what it takes for an employer to show that meal breaks aren’t practical for certain positions.

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