Workplace Policies and Practices Put to the Test in Two California Cases

By lfsuser on January 12, 2015

Employers ended 2014 with a pair of favorable wage and hour class action decisions filed on December 31, 2014.

The first, Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., involved 15,000 current and former security guards employed by ABM Security Services, Inc. who claimed that their employer violated the California Labor Code by requiring them to carry radios so they could be “on call” during their rest breaks. The plaintiffs claimed that because they were required to be “on call,” they were not fully relieved of their duties during their breaks. The Court of Appeals disagreed, deciding that simply being on call does not constitute “work,” and therefore does not, in and of itself, violate Labor Code section 226.7, which prohibits employers from requiring employees to work during a rest period. Although the security guards were required to be on call during their breaks, they were still allowed to engage in non-work activities.

It should be noted that the Court of Appeals pointed out that although Wage Order No. 4 requires employees to be “relieved of all duty” during a meal period, Wage Order No. 4 does not require the same relief “of all duty” for rest breaks.

In the second decision, Koval v. Pacific Bell, class action certification was denied for a group of non-exempt Pacific Bell service technicians who alleged that they were not totally relieved of their duties during meal or rest breaks. In this case, the employer’s written policies were not distributed to employees, but were instead delivered verbally to employees by their supervisors. Although the written policies placed some limitations on employees during their meal and rest breaks, the Court determined that the plaintiffs failed to show that Pacific Bell’s policies were consistently and uniformly applied to the plaintiffs because they were issued verbally by different supervisors.

What are the lessons to learn from these pair of cases? Employers should craft their company policies to clearly comply with wage and hour laws and to keep them simple. Employers should also train their supervisors in wage and hour compliance, but to also make sure they have sufficient autonomy to manage their departments.

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