Employment Law Alert: California Supreme Court Rules Employees Must Be Off Duty During Rest Breaks

The following information was provided by GGRA partner, Miller Law Group. If you have any questions about the information below, please email Samantha.

On December 22, 2016, the California Supreme Court published its decision in Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., S224853, confirming that employers have the same obligations regarding rest breaks as they do regarding meal periods: the employer must relieve the employee of all duties and relinquish any control. Employers generally cannot require employees to remain on-duty or on-call during meal breaks, and likewise, they cannot require employees to be “on-duty” or “on-call” during rest periods.

The California Supreme Court’s Ruling

The Supreme Court clarified that an employer’s duties regarding rest breaks are the same as they are for meal periods – that is, the employer must relieve the employee of all duties and relinquish any control over how the employee spends the time. The Court held that this interpretation was consistent with the language of the applicable wage order, the statutes relating to the wage order, and the DLSE’s opinion letters.

The Court also held that an employer cannot require employees to be on-call during their rest periods: “[O]ne cannot square the practice of compelling employees to remain at the ready, tethered by time and policy to particular locations or communications devices, with the requirement to relieve employees of all work duties and employer control during 10- minute rest periods.” The Court recognized, as a practical matter, that employees would need to stay close to the employer’s premises during their 10-minute rest breaks. While that did not establish employer control, placing an affirmative duty to be “on-call” in some fashion did.

Employer Action Steps

The Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc. decision is not a dramatic departure from, or change to, prior law regarding rest breaks. Indeed, the Court reached its decision based on the language of the applicable IWC Wage Orders and Labor Code, as well as its prior holding in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, 53 Cal. 4th 1004, 1038-1039 (2012).

Nevertheless, this case will likely result in closer scrutiny of employer rest period practices. Here are steps employers can take to avoid rest break violations:

  1. Update the employee handbook and rest period policies and practices to make clear that employees are relieved of all duties and free from employer control during rest breaks. Eliminate any language or practices that require employees to remain on-duty or on-call during a rest break or to remain on or near the premises.
  2. Don’t require employees to carry a cell phone, pager, radio, or other similar device for the purpose of allowing the employer to reach the employee during a rest break.
  3. If an employee is called back to work during a rest break or the break is otherwise interrupted, the employer can avoid problems by allowing the employee another opportunity to take a full 10-minute off-duty rest break within that same work period (the requirement is one 10-minute rest break for each 4-hour work period). Otherwise, the employer will be liable to pay the employee a missed rest break “premium,” equal to one hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate.
  4. Train managers to ensure they fully understand rest and meal break requirements, including that employees cannot be required to work or be on-call during these breaks.

Miller Law Group exclusively represents business in all aspects of California employment law, specializing in litigation, wage and hour class actions, trials, appeals, compliance advice and counseling. If you have questions about these developments or other workplace obligations, please contact us at (415) 464-4300.

This Alert is published by Miller Law Group to review recent developments in employment law. This material is designed to provide informative and current information as of the date of the Alert, and should not be considered legal advice.

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