In a tough economy, companies, just like individuals, sometimes try to cut costs in ways that come back to haunt them. Case in point, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, (see references) some companies have been trying to get more out of their employees by pressuring them to work longer hours for the same pay, which also at times, apparently includes trying to make them work through lunch breaks, which, in virtually every state in the country, is illegal.
In the report, California is highlighted due to several recent cases that have made headlines. First was a case brought against the bug killing company Terminex, by some of its employees who accused the company of making them work long hours without rest or over time pay, and most importantly, without lunch breaks. Rather than fight the case, the company settled for a reported $1.5 million.
Now another case has made news because the employees of Granite Rock have lost their case against the company, which they said didn’t let them have meal breaks, or at least pay them for the time when they were supposed to have them. They were asking for $6 million and got nothing. The judge apparently bought the companies arguments that it had provided such meal time breaks but the employees failed to use them.
The two cases highlight a growing trend in this country, and that is the fact that many companies, faced with declining revenue due to a stalled economy are turning to virtually any means at their disposal to boost the bottom line. Such attempts harken back to the days of the Great Depression when workers, desperate for work, lost a lot of the ground that had been made in securing rights up to that period. It was just such moves that led to a mass of legislation being enacted that has been protecting workers in this country every since. Now it seems, however, that tough times are again pushing companies to resort to such objectionable practices as have been shown in the recent lawsuits. Unfortunately for workers though, it seems the laws don’t always protect them as well as the clearly thought.
Because of the divided opinions of the courts, it appears likely that more suits will be brought which will likely fill the pockets of lawyers, but may not serve to protect workers in the process. Also not clear is what other underhanded practices might be evolving in corporate America as companies seek to find profits regardless of its impact on its workers.