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TN legislation on work lunch breaks could affect injury rates

Many Tennesseans are opposed to the idea of a “nanny state;” which refers to unnecessary government regulations and laws meant to protect us from making bad choices, even if the choices only affect us. That being said, we are not always able to appreciate the full value of seemingly unnecessary regulations until they are challenged.

As just one example, some Tennessee legislators have proposed a bill to allow workers to waive or reschedule the mandatory 30-minute lunch break required for most employees working shifts of six hours or more. The idea seems simple enough. Some workers may want to forego a meal break and shave 30 minutes off the end of their shift instead. However, there may be more to consider than simple convenience. Critics of the bill say that a mandatory lunch break actually helps prevent work accidents and injuries in certain jobs.

Union groups, labor law attorneys and Democratic lawmakers are particularly opposed to making the 30-minute breaks optional/movable. They make mention of numerous studies showing that the risk of accidents increases when employees work long, consecutive hours. This certainly seems true in factory work and other jobs where employees are vulnerable to repetitive stress injuries.

Critics of the bill are also concerned that the option to waive or reschedule one’s lunch breaks might not be as optional as intended. If enacted, it might encourage companies to get rid of lunch breaks entirely.

It could also create problems in workplaces (like factories) where the type of work dictates that all employees must work at the same time and take breaks at the same time. In these workplaces, waiving lunch breaks might be put to a vote, which means that each employee wouldn’t necessarily be able to choose the best option for himself.

Lunch breaks are more than just a designated time to eat. They reduce the risk of workplace accidents/injuries and often provide an opportunity for employee socialization. For all these reasons and more, we must hope that state lawmakers will protect the mandatory lunch break and vote to keep it in place.

Source: The Tennessean, “Workers could skip lunch break under TN bill,” Nate Rau, Jan. 22, 2014

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