Commentary: Time to stop the food fight

This editorial appeared in The Sacramento Bee.

California businesses have been sued more than 1,500 times since 2005 for allegedly failing to provide required meal breaks to their workers. Even if they are groundless, the lawsuits cost businesses a bundle.

Most of the lawsuits center on the definition of "provide." Do businesses merely have to make a meal period available to their workers, or do they actively have to ensure that workers stop working and eat before beginning their fifth hour on the job?

Ensuring and documenting meal breaks can be difficult. If a worker eats at his desk, does that qualify as a meal break? Does the worker have to turn off her computer while eating? With large businesses employing thousands of workers, it can be costly and time-consuming to document that all workers go to lunch when they are supposed to.

Senate Bill 807 by Republican Sen. John Benoit of Palm Desert offers businesses needed relief. It would define an employer's responsibility to "provide" a meal period as "making a meal period available without interference." That definition clarifies the rules and makes it more difficult for unscrupulous attorneys to use them to churn up lawsuits of dubious merit. The Benoit measure would also reduce the statute of limitations for violations from three years to just one, making the filing of class-action lawsuits less lucrative.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.