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Bill Would Allow Tennessee Workers to Forfeit Lunch Breaks

Last month, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development released its annual Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries and the results were highly encouraging. Specifically, the report showed that the number of fatal workplace injuries in 2012 fell to 100, down from 120 in 2011 and the lowest number in a decade.

While work safety advocacy groups are applauding both the decline in workplace fatalities and the strides made in keeping Tennessee’s workers safer, they are also speaking out against proposed legislation that they believe could jeopardize all of this progress and even endanger the lives of workers.

State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) has sponsored legislation that would give workers to right to forfeit the 30-minute lunch break otherwise mandated by state law for nearly all employees working a shift at least six hours in length.

The proposed law would follow in the footsteps of a state law passed in 2012 giving restaurant workers and those who work for tips the option of skipping their lunch breaks.

“We just want to give employees the option,” said Kelsey of his legislation. “I’ve heard stories that some employees would like to move that 30 minutes to the end of their shift, for example. And right now, they’re not legally allowed to do that when they take their breaks.”

Kelsey’s bill would also permit workers to keep their lunch break if they do not wish to forfeit it and permit employers to determine whether they want to continue making lunch breaks mandatory.

As stated earlier, the proposal has encountered significant opposition from work safety advocacy groups, as well as both unions and fellow lawmakers. Their primary concerns are that the proposal is nothing more than a smokescreen for increased productivity demands by employers and that it would present an elevated risk of work injuries.

Regarding the latter point, they argue that the 30-minute lunch break provides much-needed time away from otherwise intense work pressure and, as such, alleviates stress and prevents serious and even fatal workplace injuries.

It remains to be seen whether Kelsey’s bill gains the necessary traction this legislative session …

Whether you’ve been seriously injured or lost a loved one in a workplace accident, it’s important to understand that you have rights and you have options. An experienced attorney can explain both and protect your best interests.

Source: The Tennessean, “Workers could skip lunch break under TN bill,” Nate Rau, Jan. 22, 2014; The Nashville Business Journal, “Fatal Tennessee workplace injuries drop to lowest level in ten years,” Scott Harrison, Jan. 27, 2014