The California Supreme Court recently held that “on-call” rest periods violate California’s rest period standard because employees are not relieved of all duty. In Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., security guards were required to remain “on-call” during their authorized rest periods in order to be “on the ready” and available to respond to a call. Radios and pagers had to be kept on and guards were to “remain vigilant” and “respond when needs arose,” such as responding to emergencies. However, the times when a rest break was actually interrupted were few.
The trial court ruled in favor of the approximately 14,000 guards and awarded almost $90 million for failing to provide legally compliant rest breaks. An appellate court reversed and the Supreme Court granted review. The Supreme Court found in favor of the guards and reinstated the trial court award. In doing so, the Court held that an employer’s obligation with respect to rest periods is the same as for meal periods: an employee must be “relieved from all work-related duties and free from employer control.” Remaining “on-call” meant the employee was still under the employer’s control and therefore not “duty-free.”
Like meal periods, employees must “be freed from employer control over how they spend their time” during rest periods. The Court recognized that “practical limitations” exist on an employee’s movement due to the limited time authorized for rest breaks. For that reason, it found, “one would expect that employees will ordinarily have to remain onsite or nearby,” but that “is not sufficient to establish employer control.” Ultimately, employees must have the “freedom to use rest periods for their own purposes.”
Recommendation to Employers
Employers should review their rest break policies and practices to ensure compliance with this case. Specifically, employees must be relieved of all work-related duty and free from the employer’s control. To the extent employees are currently required to remain “on-call” during rest breaks and/or respond to an employer’s call or employer request during a rest break, that practice should be discontinued. Employers should review their current policies and practices with qualified legal counsel.
We will discuss this case and other developments in the law during our February 2, 2017 webinar: California Employment Law Update 2017. For more information, visit www.suttonhague.com/events.