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Making rest breaks work in California

The year 2017 has been one in which employers have had to come to terms with new state requirements for rest breaks for certain on-call workers.

At the end of last year, the California Supreme Court decided in ABM Security Services, Inc. that employers need to take steps to ensure that rest breaks really are rest breaks. There could be no work performed during breaks, no matter how passive or minimal the work was.

Expanding the notion of breaks

The case became known as the “on-call rest break case.” As a business practice, defendant-employer ABM Security Services mandated that its security guards had to keep their radios and pagers on while on breaks. If calls from tenants came in, guards were expected to answer them -- even though they were on “break.”

The Court decided in favor of the plaintiff, who filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all ABM security guards in the state, ruling that a break had to be just that, a break. The state’s highest court held that the on-call duty violated the very purpose of breaks, allowing employees to relax. An on-call rest break, the Court said, was not a break at all.

Employers were instructed to ensure that rest breaks were work-free – even in a passive matter such as leaving radios and pagers on.

A generous law

California law has always granted additional protections to employees compared to federal law in matters relating to breaks (as well as many other issues). Under California law: non-exempt employees are entitled to both meal and rest breaks: 30-minutes for the meal break for employees putting in at least 5-hour workdays, plus 10-minute rest breaks for every 4-hour work period.

To comply with this ruling on breaks, employers are advised by the National Law Review to check off these actions:

  • Review your employee handbooks and policies and procedures documents. Make sure your rest breaks fit with the Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc. ruling.
  • Make sure managers and supervisors know that employees are to rest during rest breaks.
  • Consider having workers clock out and then clock back in when the break is over.
  • If you have been asking workers to take calls during breaks – stop it.

This is just one example of how employers can expose themselves to potential litigation by not being up-to-date on developing case law. Working closely with an experienced law firm that offers counsel on employment issues can help small and medium-sized businesses prevent employment-related litigation.

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