The California Supreme Court ruled today that on-call rest periods are not permissible. Today’s decision will require many California employers to re-examine their rest-break policies and practices.
In Augustus, et al. v. ABM Security Services, Inc, the California Supreme Court reversed the 2nd District Court of Appeal, concluding that, “state law prohibits on-duty and on-call rest periods. During required rest periods, employers must relieve their employees of all duties and relinquish any control over how employees spend their break time.” The 10-minute rest break must be uninterrupted. “The rest period, in short, must be a period of rest.”
Although rest breaks are compensable time (unlike meal breaks), the employer must still relinquish control over the rest break, said the Court. An employer cannot meet its rest-period obligations by requiring employees to remain on-call. A “broad and intrusive degree of control” exists when there is an on-call rest period because the employee is forced to remain “on call, vigilant, and at the ready.”
The Court noted that its ruling does not prevent employers from being able to reasonably reschedule a rest period when the need arises — although such circumstances should be “the exception rather than the rule.” Moreover, if a rest period is interrupted, an employer can provide another rest period to replace the interrupted one or pay the premium pay penalty (1 hour of straight time pay) for the missed rest break.
ABM Security Services, Inc. (ABM) employs security guards across California. Jennifer Augustus and others sued ABM claiming that ABM failed to provide guards with uninterrupted, 10-minute rest periods as required by California law because ABM required its security guards to keep their radios and pagers on during rest breaks, remain vigilant and respond to emergencies.
The guards presented no evidence that anyone’s rest break was ever actually interrupted, only that they were required to remain on call.
The guards sought a one-hour penalty every day for every one of nearly 15,000 security guards, plus waiting time penalties and interest. The trial court eventually awarded the guards approximately $90 million in damages, interests and penalties.
This ruling just reinforces what I’ve saying all along. If you mess with employee rest breaks (as well as meal periods), you will be putting your organization at risk for significant monetary damages.