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California Supreme Court Bans On-Call Rest Breaks

January 4, 2017 by

The California Supreme Court on December 22, 2016, issued a decision upholding the right of employees to take a duty-free rest break. Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc.

The case involved a challenge to ABM Security Services’ policy requiring its security guards to keep their pagers and radiophones on, to “keep vigilant”, and to respond to needs that arose, even during breaks.

Under California law, private-sector employees are entitled to one paid rest break of ten-minutes or more for every four hours of work. For each day that an employee does not get a break, that employee is entitled to one additional hour of straight time pay (called “premium” pay). Employees are also entitled to one unpaid meal break of at least thirty minutes for every five hours worked (unless the employee works less than six hours that day). In prior decisions, the Court has said that employees must be relieved of all work-related obligations during a meal break, but it was not clear whether the same rule applied to a rest break.

The Court made two important holdings. First, it squarely held that employees must get “off-duty” rest breaks, meaning employees must be relieved of all work-related duties and completely free from employer control.

Second, the Court held that employers do not satisfy the obligation to provide an “off-duty” rest break by requiring employees to remain “on call” during the break. ABM essentially required employees to fulfill specific duties while on break, such as carrying a device, responding to various prompts and being “vigilant.” The Court rightly held that such a policy is irreconcilable with employees’ freedom to use rest periods as they choose. Note also that if a rest break is interrupted, the employee must get another, uninterrupted, break or be paid the one hour of premium pay.

In Augustus, the Court provided needed clarity in a developing area of wage and hour law and reinforced the protective purpose of California employment laws. To read the decision, click here.


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