NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 3, 2005

A recent California law calls for a mandatory half-hour lunch break for each six-hour shift, to be taken by the fifth hour on the job. This is stricter than current federal regulations. According to Reason, it is making neither business nor labor happy.

If business does not provide the break to employees, those employees are owed an extra hour of wages for each day without a rest break. This has led to large penalties for some businesses:

  • Since October 2000, the state has levied nearly $4 million in penalties for over 2000 violations of the right to rest.
  • The California Restaurant Association states that many of these suits are frivolous, involving breaks that started five minutes late.
  • Now moving through state courts are a class action against Wal-Mart that involves nearly 200,000 workers and suits against the Cheesecake Factory chain, which may eventually claim as much as $10 to $20 million in back pay and penalties.

The new rules have frustrated employees as well. With less break flexibility, workers do not always get what they want:

  • In one restaurant, waiters were required to come in an hour before their shift to fold napkin for a half-hour, sit on their hands, and then work a full six hours.
  • This complied with the work regulation, but did not relieve waiters who really needed a minute off their feet or a smoke break during the dinner rush.
  • During public hearing in spring, many workers argued for more flexibility so they could collect more tips or work a shorter shift.

While both business and labor unions disagree on many points of this and other similar types of regulation, there is one thing they do agree on: class-action lawsuits are a cumbersome, expensive, and blunt instrument for ensuring that workers are treated fairly and feel satisfied, says Reason.

Source: Anya Kamenetz, "Out to Lunch -- Labor law and lunchtime lawsuits in California," Reason, April 25, 2005.

For text:


Browse more articles on Government Issues