Taco Bell Beats Claim That On-Site Meals Don’t Count as Breaks

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By Jon Steingart

Taco Bell Corp. didn’t violate a California law mandating meal breaks when it offered employees a discount on food only if they ate on site, a federal appeals court ruled.

Employees who took the offer were at their place of work but they weren’t working, Judge Mary M. Schroeder of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said. Taco Bell exercised no control over their activities during breaks, she said.

The law requires that an employee be relieved of all work duties for a period of time to be considered a break. The July 18 opinion, which Judges N. Randy Smith and Sara Lee Ellis joined, show that an employee may be considered relieved of duties even though he or she is physically located at the workplace.

Claims that employees are expected to work during breaks can be costly for businesses. PepsiCo Inc. and related companies last month agreed to pay $5 million to settle a lawsuit by drivers who said they were expected to respond to telephone calls during breaks, which they said meant they weren’t really relieved of work duties.

The case is Rodriguez v. Taco Bell Corp., 9th Cir., No. 16-15465, summary judgment affirmed 7/18/18.

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