One of your employees comes to you in the morning and says that she would like to leave early in order to attend her child's sporting event. She does not wish to use any of her leave time, and so asks whether it would be permissible for her to skip lunch and simply leave early instead. Seems simple enough, right? You consider yourself a good employer, and always want to be flexible when it comes to your employees' requests. You take no issue with this request and tell the employee that she may leave early as long as she works through lunch. But is your flexibility actually putting your practice at risk?
In California, under the above scenario, the answer would be yes. That is because California law not only mandates the provision of meal breaks, but also says when they must be given. Under most circumstances, employees must be given a meal break within their first 5 hours of work each day. That means that your decision to allow your employee to effectively take her meal break at the end of the day is actually in violation of California labor laws.
This is not to say, of course, that the employee in the above scenario is being deceptive or trying to get her employer into trouble. To the contrary, she likely appreciates the flexibility at the time, and flexibility around employee scheduling is usually a good practice for employers. What is important to note, here, is that flexibility can only go so far, and violating labor laws is beyond what should be permitted under the guise of "flexibility."
The best approach is to take a strict position that while flexibility is permitted on a case-by-case basis and with your approval, you will not, under any circumstances, allow your employees to take actions which would put your practice at risk of a labor claim. While you may wish to grant your employees' requests and you may not see the harm in doing so at the time, you simply cannot place your practice at risk for the benefit of a single employee. Labor lawsuits are filled with defendants who were "well-intentioned" employers who were unaware of the law or failed to see how violating it could get them into trouble as long as the actions they were taking were for the benefit of their employees. Stay abreast of the law and implement a strict refusal to violate these rules, regardless of the circumstances. Otherwise, your well-intentioned flexibility can get you, and your practice, into hot water.