Employers: CA Court of Appeal Rules On-Duty Rest Breaks Permitted
In late January, a California Court of Appeal issued a ruling in Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., overturning a $90 million award against the company because ABM required its security guards to keep their radios and pagers on during rest breaks, remain vigilant, and respond as needed.
The ruling came nearly three years after a trial court certified a class of thousands of current and former security guards, and awarded summary judgment to the plaintiffs following a lengthy legal battle. The lower court held California law requires employers to relieve workers of all duty during rest breaks.
The facts of the case were not in dispute: ABM provided – and security guards took – regular rest breaks.
Plaintiffs alleged, however, the breaks were not compliant with California law because the guards were required to remain “on-call” during rest breaks. They contended California law requires employees be relieved of all duties during such breaks.
Rest Breaks Distinguished From Meal Breaks
On appeal, the Court held California law only requires employees be relieved of working during rest breaks. Contrary to meal breaks – which are unpaid time – the law does not require employees be relieved of being on duty or all employer control during paid rest breaks.
The Court considered the nature of a rest break, and whether being on-call means performing work, and found that it did not. The Court noted ABM security guards engaged in various activities while taking breaks, including surfing the net, making personal phone calls, etc. “Admittedly, an on-call guard must return to duty if called to do so, but remaining available to work is not the same as actually working.”
As noted above, the Court distinguished the law regarding California’s meal break requirement and that relating to rest breaks. While meal breaks specifically require employees be “relieved of all duty,” there is no similar language for the provision of rest breaks.
The Appellate Court reiterated that being on-call does not necessarily mean that employee is performing work, and remaining available to work is not the same as actually working.
Prior rulings and Department of Labor Standards Enforcement opinions were contradictory as to the extent of control employers could impose on employees during rest breaks.
This case provides helpful guidance for employers regarding obligations pursuant to California’s rest break requirements. Pursuant to this case, employers may not require employees to work, but are not required to relieve employees of all duty, during rest breaks.
Nicole Kamm is an Employer Defense Attorney experienced in wage and hour and other employee class action law suits. Contact her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 818.907.3235 for more information.