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California extends timeframe for skipped-break lawsuits

SAN FRANCISCO California restaurateurs and other employers can be sued for violations of meal- and rest-break requirements going back up to four years under a ruling issued this week by the California Supreme Court.

Oral arguments were heard before the Court here in March on Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Productions Inc., a landmark case filed by an employee of a retail store who charges that he was denied breaks and forced to work overtime. California's labor code requires the payment of one hour of additional pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation for each day that time for a meal or a rest break is denied.

The court ruled that the amount paid to a worker by an employer for failing to provide a meal or rest break is considered a wage, with the usual statute of limitations on alleged wage violations of three years. Plaintiffs could also file a claim seeking restitution for unpaid wages going as far back as four years.

Attorneys representing employers in the case had argued that payments for violations should be considered a penalty, which has a statute of limitations of only one year.

The ruling is expected to have a multi-million dollar impact on the restaurant industry, which has been hit hard by class-action litigation involving charges of wage-and-hour violations by hundreds of employees.

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