Recently, the California Court of Appeal ruled on a case that clarified the different requirements of employees during meal breaks and rest breaks. In the case, Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., the plaintiff argued that ABM violated California law because ABM’s security guards were required to carry communication devices and remain on-call during their rest breaks. According to the plaintiff, being on-call meant the employees were still under ABM’s control and “on-duty” during rest breaks, making the rest breaks invalid. The trial court agreed with the plaintiff and entered a judgment against ABM for $90 million in rest break premium pay, interest, and other penalties. ABM appealed, and the California Court of Appeal overturned the $90 million class judgment.
California’s Second District Court of Appeal held that the trial court was wrong, and that ABM’s on-call rest break policy does not violate California labor laws. According to the Court of Appeal, under California law, employees must be released of “working” during rest breaks, but employers are not required to release all control and employees are not released from being on duty.
The court’s decision rested largely on the distinction between California meal break law and California rest break law. During meal breaks, employers have to release employees of all duties because meal breaks are unpaid. On the other hand, rest break time is paid time and nothing in the applicable Labor Code provisions or wage orders states that an employee must be free of all employer control during paid rest breaks.
Applying this reasoning, the California Court of Appeal held that ABM’s policy requiring security guards to remain on-call during rest breaks is not unlawful as long as employees are not required to perform work during rest breaks.
Employers and employees need to understand that when it comes to rest breaks, “working” and “remaining available to work” are entirely different. It is therefore legal for an employer to expect an employee to remain available to work during paid rest periods.