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Meal break law before California Supreme Court

California is one of the few states that impose financial penalties for failing to provide meal and rest breaks, but class action lawyers have gone further and argued that employers who fail to "ensure" that employees actually take the breaks (rather than just make the breaks available to employees) are liable. This is great for lawyers, but not so good for everyday California workers. Aside from the regulatory burden on employers who are thus disincentivized from hiring because of the increased marginal expected litigation expense of an additional employee, employers are forced into Draconian policies of firing workers who don't take their required breaks, lest they be sued for leniency. [AP via Bashman; CalChamber; Seyfarth Shaw]

It's far from clear that this is a preferred outcome for workers ex ante, especially when California class action law allows class action attorneys to collect a disproportionate share of any recovery. The result is not just increased unemployment and increased uncertainty for workers, but a wealth transfer from wage employees to wealthy attorneys.

Meanwhile, in Illinois, employers facing similar quandaries can face liability either way: an Illinois employee fired for refusing to take her lunch break successfully sued for unemployment insurance (h/t).

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Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.