The California Supreme Court ruled on December 22, 2016 in Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc. that employee rest breaks must be “off duty”—which means not even the remote possibility that work could occur. In other words, even being “on call”, having a pager or radio that could “interrupt” your rest break constitutes work now under California law and can trigger excessive penalties for employers.
In Augustus, the plaintiffs were security guards who were required to carry radio phones and pagers while on their rest break and respond to any calls if they occurred. Even though the evidence showed the plaintiffs were rarely, if ever, interrupted on these rest breaks, and despite the Employer arguing that the requirement to be “relieved of all duty” applies only to meal breaks, the Court found that the employees were entitled to be relieved from all work-related duties and free from employer control. OUCH!
This decision is another smack down of employers in California making it once again, one of the toughest states to run a business. So what do you need to know? Employers need to reevaluate their rest break periods to ensure compliance. The Court emphasized that the term “rest” is defined as “the essation of work, exertion or activity.” So if your employee is doing anything related to their work, that would be considered a violation of the law. If you utilize an “on call” system, even when an employee is on their break, requiring your employees to carry a work telephone, pager or radio, or even an overhead paging system, let’s talk…but not during your rest break.