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Who's the boss when it comes to lunch breaks and coffee time?

When will this waiter catch a break?
When will this waiter catch a break?
Presidio of Monterey: DLIFLC & USAG/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)

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The California Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in a case that will have far-reaching implications for workers across the state. Five restaurant workers are suing Brinker International – owner of Chili's and other chain restaurants – claiming the company made it impossible to take meal and rest breaks.

One plaintiff, Santana Alvarado, worked at Chili's restaurant in Concord for several years. He testified that it was tough to get his bosses to give him time away from dish washing to eat. And that he and co-workers "were forced to eat in the storage room."

Labor-rights lawyers say employers should be forced to carve out time for workers. Brinker's attorneys don't deny that workers ought to have opportunities for taking requisite breaks, but that controlling the exact timing is unmanageable and should be left to the discretion of employees.

The Court's decision is due in three months and will impact numerous class-action lawsuits and one-off employee claims against employers.

The California Restaurant Association's CEO, Jot Condie, told The Mercury News, "It's big to our membership ... We hear daily from companies and independent restaurants being sued because of the unclear nature of the law."


Will the court clear things up? How should breaks be managed in your workplace? Do you get time off during your day? Would you want it set in stone to avoid employers taking advantage, or do you prefer flexibility?


Fernando Flores, Staff Attorney in the Wage and Hour Litigation Program, Legal Aid Society - Employment Law Center based in San Francisco, California

Daniel Conway, Legislative and Public Affairs Director, California Restaurant Association

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