California Supreme Court: Employers Cannot Require Employees to Be On-Call During Rest Breaks

In its much-anticipated decision, the California Supreme Court recently held in Augustus v. ABM Security Services that employees must be relieved of all work—and not be on-call—during their ten-minute rest breaks.

The plaintiffs in this case were security guards who worked for ABM Security Services.  ABM provided plaintiffs with ten-minute rest breaks, but, per its policy, required the plaintiffs to be on-call during these breaks.  While on-call, plaintiffs had to keep their pagers and radios on, and respond to issues or emergencies as they arose.

As we reported earlier this year, the California Court of Appeal had held that employers were allowed to place its security guards on-call during their ten-minute rest breaks.  The security guards appealed this decision and in March 2016, the California Supreme Court agreed to decide the case.

The Supreme Court addressed two questions in its decision:

Question #1: Does California law require employers to relieve employees of all work duties during a rest period?  Answer:  Yes.

Question #2:  If yes, can employers nonetheless require employees to remain on-call during a rest break?  Answer:  No.

In its decision, the Supreme Court closely examined the text of both Labor Code section 226.7 and Wage Order 4-2001, and concluded that the most reasonable and common understanding of a “rest period,” given its context in the laws, is one that requires no work to be performed.  The Court went on to reason that being on-call is irreconcilable with being relieved of all work duties and, therefore, an employer cannot require an employee be on-call during rest periods.

This is a significant decision for California employees, whose right to a true, work-free ten-minute rest break has now been secured by the highest court in the state.  Kosinski and Thiagraj, LLP represents individuals and groups of employees who have been denied meal and rest breaks at work.  If you believe you have been unlawfully denied meal or rest breaks, please contact us for a consultation.