Meal-break dispute turns into $2.9M settlement
- Employees in a class-action suit won a meal-break dispute for $2.9 million, reports SHRM. A federal district court in California ruled that BAE Systems San Diego Ship Repair Inc. deprived lead plaintiff Eduardo Nunez and as many as 1,930 class-action members of a full 30-minute meal break.
- Nunez argued that, at any given time, about 100 employees stood in line for their break at checkpoints. He claimed workers lost even more of their meal break when they had to disembark from the ship and turn in their tools. Plaintiffs alleged that the company made workers buy clothes and shoes without reimbursing them, which Nunez argued caused the company’s ledgers to be inaccurate.
- The company settled the case for $2.9 million. Nunez claimed the correct settlement should have been $11.5 million. The court let the original settlement stand.
Wage and hour claims involving worker classification and exempt status are generally rising, but it was a meal-break dispute that cost the employer $2.9 million to settle, SHRM said. Such claims aren't as common as other wage-hour violations, but they have been garnering big costs for employers as of late thanks to a confusing patchwork of federal, state and local laws that regulate breaks.
Employers shouldn’t underestimate the courts’ handling of meal-break disputes. Apple had to pay $2 million for disregarding workers’ rights to meal and rest breaks.
Under federal law, employers aren’t required to provide meal or rest breaks unless they’re included in a union contract or covered by state and municipalities. But state and local laws do apply and can trip employers up. Knowing what is required in jurisdictions where employers operate is critically important to avoiding wage-hour claims.