California Supreme Court Rejects “On Duty” or “On Call” Rest Breaks

By Jaimee K. Wellerstein, Esq.

On December 22, 2016, the California Supreme Court devastated California employers, the security industry in particular, in the landmark case of Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., ending an 11-year battle and holding that employers can no longer require employees to remain “on duty” or “on-call” during paid rest breaks. The Court ruled that the same standard that applies to off-duty meal breaks (that employees must be completely relieved of all duties) also applies to rest breaks.

This ruling results in the potential reinstatement of a $90 million verdict against the security company, whose security guards remained on-call during rest breaks and carried radios or other communication devices in case they needed to return to work.  Even though it was clear that breaks were rarely interrupted, the Court held that the on-call requirement invalidated the rest breaks.

What does this mean for California employers?

  • Employees must be relieved of all duties during their rest breaks.
  • Employees can no longer be required to remain “on duty” during rest breaks.
  • Employees can no longer be required to remain “on-call” (i.e., available for interruption) during rest breaks. According to the Court, “[C]arrying a device or otherwise making arrangements so the employer can reach the employee during a break, responding when the employer seeks contact with the employee, and performing other work if the employer so requests. These obligations are irreconcilable with employees’ retention of freedom to use rest periods for their own purposes.”
  • Employees cannot be required to remain on the premises during meal breaks.

The Court’s decision may be unreasonable and impractical, but it is now the law in California.  This will mean big changes for many California employers.

We encourage you to contact your employment attorneys to plan for the changes that need to be made.