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Employers and Employees need "Rest when it's Best"

Posted by Gino DiCaro, VP, Communications on April 9, 2008

Today in California's Senate Labor Committee, the beginnings of a long sought after fix (SB 1539 by Ron Calderon) to the State's very unclear meal and break period laws made an important first step -- it passed it's first Committee.  The legislation was unfortunately stripped down but still moved forward as an intent bill and, most importantly, the Committee recognized the need for change in its comments and vote.

The law in question (Labor code section 512) states that a non-exempt employee can't work more than 5 hours without being provided a thirty-minute meal period.  Employers and employees need flexibility and clarity -- the type of freedom not afforded in a law as ambiguous and often litigated as this one.  

Manufacturers and their employees use many different types of schedules to accommodate different processes.  The original law was not intended to prohibit flexible and symbiotic work schedules from occurring, but it was written in such a way that unintentionally created a wide-open venue for class-action lawsuits amidst very agreeable employer / employee relationships.

At its very worst, the law even created situations where a nurse could be forced to take a rest period during a medical procedure if that nurse had not yet taken a break.  Fear of costly lawsuits forces employers (including health facilities) to require these 30-minute reprieves regardless of the employee's immediate disposition or situation.

Because the law is so nebulous, meal period class-action lawsuits have become a popular and easy way to sue California employers.  SB 1539 and "Rest when it's Best" clarification has lots of hurdles and challenges but the mere recognition that change is needed is a very promising first step.  

Next time you're at dinner and your waiter says he's being forced to take his break right in the middle of "go time", take a breath and a bite of your riceless, orange flavored chicken and hope that the law gets fixed before it becomes an even larger reason not to grow a manufacturing facility or employee base in California ... or worse, before you get to the hospital and need all willing hands on deck.


View SB 1539 broad support letter.



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