Court: Employees must be paid for denied lunch breaks

The Supreme Court of California handed employees a major legal victory, allowing workers who were denied lunch breaks to seek compensation for three years and also enjoy a three-year statute of limitations. The unanimous ruling in a San Francisco case answered a much-debated issue: should employers be fined for unpaid lunches or compensate employees? The closely watched ruling, considered one of the most important cases this year by Cal Chamber, will affect several class-action lawsuits in the state and expand the period for employees to file complaints.   With the ruling Monday, employees who were forced to work during their lunch breaks can seek compensation over a maximum three-year period and have three years to file a complaint against their employer. Companies that deny employees a 30-minute lunch break after five hours of work must pay one hour's wage to workers, according to state labor laws established in 2000. Employers must also allow employees a 10-minute break after four hours of work. John Paul Murphy, a store manager for Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. in San Francisco, was awarded $64,000 in damages for being forced to work during his lunch and rest breaks, and work without overtime from 2000 to 2002.

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