Remember how your mom and dad used to work 9 to 5 and take an hour for lunch? That was nice of their employers. Because, as we all just found out, they didn’t have to make sure that your parents took time to chill. Today the California Supreme Court ruled that employers need not compel workers to take lunch and other breaks. As it turns out, there is no federal law requiring employers to make sure that workers take the lunch breaks they’re legally entitled to. Instead, it’s on employees to make sure they get them.

Workers at Chili’s restaurants brought the lawsuit nine years ago, charging that the company was taking advantage of them by not making sure they took breaks. (By the way, states have widely varying rules on breaks, from California’s demand that employees get a 30-minute break after more than five consecutive hours of work, to Pennsylvania’s decree that employers need not give adults breaks at all.) But as anyone who’s ever done restaurant work knows, it’s hard to find time to squeeze in a 30-minute break, especially in the middle of a shift, which is likely to coincide with the lunch (or dinner) rush.

Office workers are maybe just as unable (or unwilling) to take breaks, too. When’s the last time you took a leisurely lunch away from your cube, when you just chilled and didn’t answer emails? A widely reported survey by HR consultants Right Management found that 65 percent of respondents ate at their desks, or didn’t even bother taking a break.

That eating-at-your-desk part has created some unintended consequences. In 2010, Britain’s Royal Society of Chemistry told the Daily Mail that keyboard crumbs were getting so endemic that mice were overrunning offices and leaving droppings everywhere. (One worker wondered what the “seeds” were coming out of her keyboard as she typed.)

Maybe the California Supreme Court would be okay about requiring employers to provide computers with keyless keyboards? Then again, maybe not.

Image source: Flickr member Taiyofj under Creative Commons

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