California Supreme Court Clarifies Employer Obligation to Provide Non-Exempt Employees Duty Free Rest Breaks
On December 22, 2016, in Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., Case No. S224853, the California Supreme Court held that employers “must relieve their employees of all duties and relinquish any control over how employees spend their break time.”
Plaintiff Jennifer Augustus, a former security guard employed by defendant ABM Security Services, Inc. (“ABM”), brought a class action lawsuit challenging ABM’s practice of requiring its security guards to keep pagers and radios on and remaining responsive to calls if a need arose during rest breaks. Augustus argued that ABM’s on-call rest break policy unlawfully denied her and the class of similarly situated security guards their statutory “duty free” rest breaks.
The trial court ruled in favor of plaintiffs an awarded the class $90 million in damages. On appeal, the Court of Appeal reversed in favor of ABM and concluded that “simply being on call” does not constitute performing work. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal and held that compelling class members to “remain at the ready” and “tethered by time and policy to particular locations or communications devices” violated the statutory requirement to relieve employees of all work duties and employer control during 10-minute rest breaks.
Although the Supreme Court acknowledged that the duration of a 10-minute rest break necessarily imposes some limitation on employee movement and that employees will ordinarily remain on-site or nearby, the Court held that additional restraint imposed by requiring employees to carry a device or make other arrangements so the employer can reach the employee are in direct conflict with employees’ “retention of freedom to use rest periods for their own purposes.”
Practically, the Supreme Court’s decision requires that employers treat rest breaks in the same manner as meal periods. This decision is likely to have a far reaching impact on California employers. As such, all employers should review and may need to revise their rest break policies to address this decision.
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