On December 22, 2016, the California Supreme Court ruled that employers in California must give their employees 10 minutes of work-free rest breaks every four hours or major fraction thereof, and cannot require them to remain on-call and available for duty.
In Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc. (“ABM”), Augustus and others sued ABM alleging that ABM failed to provide guards with uninterrupted, 10-minute rest periods because ABM required its security guards to keep their radios and pagers on during rest breaks and respond to emergencies. The trial court ruled in favor of the guards and concluded that an employer must relieve an employee of all duties during rest breaks, including the obligation to remain on call. The trial court awarded the guards approximately $90 million in damages, interest and penalties. On appeal, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s ruling, and held that on-call rest periods are lawful and, unlike meal periods, there is no requirement that employees be relieved of all duty when on a rest break.
The California Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s decision, emphasizing that since 1932, California law has required employers to provide employees with rest periods. The Court held that employers must relieve employees of all duties and relinquish control over how employees spend their time during their rest periods. “A rest period, in short, must be a period of rest.” Requiring guards or other employees to remain on call during rest breaks creates “a broad and intrusive degree of control,” that prevents workers from taking a walk, making a phone call or pumping breast milk for a newborn child. The Court also noted that the state law allows employers to reschedule rest periods when special needs arise, although such circumstances should be “the exception rather than the rule.”
Employer policies and procedures should ensure compliance with California law regarding the timing of rest periods, and that employees are not performing work during their rest breaks.