Court orders Wal-Mart to pay £98m to California workers

Wal-Mart has been ordered to pay $172.3m (£98m) to California workers it prevented from taking meal breaks, in the second of more than 40 similar suits facing the world’s largest retailer.

The jury’s verdict came after a three-month trial in which Wal-Mart was accused of not giving 116,000 current and former employees lunch breaks or compensation over a four-year period.

The case began in 2001, when five store employees claimed they were not compensated after being forced to work through their breaks. The case then extended, covering thousands of workers in California, where employees working more than five hours must get 30-minute breaks or an extra hour’s pay.

In a statement, Wal-Mart said the case is about old compliance issues and denied breaking the law. The company is to appeal because it feels the punitive damages are disproportionate to the severity of the claim.

Wal-Mart’s stated policy prohibits employees from working unpaid overtime and the company says it pays workers for breaks that are interrupted.

But the company has been found guilty in the past of forcing employees to work ‘off the clock’. In 2002, about 90 Oregon Wal-Mart employees were awarded about $2,000 each, after working unpaid overtime for five years, while a Colorado case on the same issue was settled for $50m (£28m).

The retail giant also came under fire from US unions last year, after a leaked memo revealed that managers were being encouraged to give overweight workers more physically demanding duties.

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