As you may recall in late December thousands of Wal-Mart employees were awarded millions by a jury for lunches they were allegedly denied. According to CNN, Wal-Mart was ordered to pay $57 million in general damages and $115 million in punitive damages to roughly 116,000 current and former Southern California Wal-Mart employees. While Wal-Mart argues that many of those employees waived their right to take a lunch, many argue that those cases aren’t the concern. In 2001 California passed a law that requires employers to offer employees unpaid lunch breaks if they work at least six hours. The complaint was not in regards to those who waived that lunch break, but in fact those who after the law passed were denied that lunch break.
Wal-Mart is America’s largest retailer, and one that is constantly under the microscope for its employee policy. However, how many other companies which aren’t under the microscope get away with this on a daily basis?
My wife came home from work last week visibly agitated about her day at work. When I asked her what was wrong, she explained to me that she was not given a break on that particular evening. Atop that frustration when she was denied the break she had just as much difficulty wanting someone to cover her register long enough so she could at least use the bathroom. When I asked her why there was no one to cover her break she explained how that store manager cuts back hours after the department managers make the schedule. The department managers schedule out what they need each day, and then the store manager will go in and cut back hours to where he sees fit leaving the departments with insufficient staffing.
No my wife doesn’t work at Wal-Mart, she works at the fairly new Sears Essentials here in Corona. This new discount retailer is the bi-product of the K-Mart/Sears merger that began back in 2004. So why is Sears, one of the most trusted economic institutions in US History allowing something like this to happen at one of its newest stores? Furthermore, if this is how corporate America is treating its middle class working force why isn’t anyone speaking up?
This isn’t the first time my wife has fallen victim to a break free work environment. Prior to being employed by Sears she worked as a cashier at a dry cleaners. There she was given no breaks or lunches during her shifts. When she was allowed to grab lunch she was forced to eat it while she worked. She was not given a designated break area to rest, and was forced to cut her break short whenever customers needed help.
When I went to make a payment at my storage facility last week the girl at the counter was discussion with us how busy they were on New Years Eve. Apparently the girl that worked that day had come in and complained the next day because she worked with no breaks all day. The lady we spoke with scoffed at the idea of breaks and made it pretty clear that she too, rarely saw an actual break.
So why is it that our workforce puts up with this? Is it a fear of repercussion if they speak out? Is it fear that they will look weak if they ask about their breaks and lunches?
What do you think about the increase in businesses denying their employees breaks and lunches? Have you been a victim to this unlawful act? Tell me about it.