In many ways, California tends to err on the side of workers. Non-compete agreements are generally invalid altogether in the state. When it comes to trade secrets cases, California courts have rejected the “inevitable disclosure” doctrine, which claims that employees who go to work for a competitor inevitably disclose trade secrets to their new employer. Last week, though, California’s Supreme Court issued a ruling that, at least partially, is more favorable to employers.
The ruling comes after eight years of legal wrangling over employee breaks. The Supreme Court ruled that employees must provide lunch breaks to their employees, but that the employers were not responsible for ensuring that employees actually take a break. In other words, if an employee uses the break to do work instead of eat and rest, employees cannot sue their employers.
The ruling does not change the fact that employers still have to offer breaks. The first break must occur within five hours of the employee’s start. Employers cannot prevent or discourage their workers from taking breaks, but if an employee opts to work during his or her break, the employer is not to blame, the judges ruled unanimously.
The practical effect of the ruling is that it shifts the burden to take a break to the employee. The lawsuit stemmed from workers in the restaurant industry, but it applies to any employee who falls under California’s labor laws. (These laws do not apply to exempt employees, which are those working in certain administrative or professional jobs.) For those to whom the ruling does apply, your employer does not have to directly order you to take a break. If you should be taking a break, it is your decision what you do during it.
Will the California Supreme Court’s ruling have any effect for your business?
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