California Supreme Court Rejects On-Duty And On-Call Rest Breaks
By Kevin Rivera on 01/01/2017
On December 22, 2016, the California Supreme Court addressed two related issues: (i) whether California law requires employers to permit off-duty rest breaks – that is, time during which an employee is relieved from all work-related duties and free from employer control, and (ii) does an employer satisfy its obligation to relieve employees from work-related duties and employer control if the employer requires its employees to remain on-call during rest breaks.
In Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., No. S224853, the class action plaintiffs worked as security guards and were required to keep their pagers and radio phones on during their 10-minute rest breaks and to respond when needs arose. The trial court granted the plaintiffs’ summary judgment motions, finding that they were not relieved of all duty and that they were therefore entitled to $90 million dollars in damages, interest, and penalties.
The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court decision, holding that California law does not require employers to provide off-duty rest breaks. The California Supreme Court then reversed the Court of Appeal and reinstated the $90 million judgment, holding that California law prohibits on-duty and on-call rest breaks. The Court stated that during required rest breaks, employers must “relieve their employees of all duties” and “relinquish any control” over how employees spend their break time – including the obligation that an employee remain on-call during a rest break.
Employers can take the following steps to comply with the Court’s decision and reduce their risk of liability:
- Review and update your rest break policies to ensure that, during required rest breaks, employees are free from all work-related duties and employer control.
- Prohibit employees from carrying work pagers, cell phones, radios and other work-related communication devices while on their rest breaks.
- Other than prohibiting employees from carrying or checking workplace communication devices, do not place restrictions on how employees may use their rest break time. They should be permitted to use their personal cell phones and devices for non-work related purposes.
- If an employee’s rest break is interrupted with work, provide a new, uninterrupted 10-minute rest break, or pay the penalty (one hour of pay) on the employee’s next paycheck.
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