In the final week of 2016, the California Supreme Court handed a victory to workers across the State by clarifying that employers may not require hourly employees to remain on call during mandatory 10-minute rest periods. The Court grounded its decision in the history of the rest-period requirement, statutory interpretation, and common sense, leading to its conclusion that “A rest period, in short, must be a period of rest.”
The case before the Court, Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., involved security guards who were required to keep their pagers and radios on during rest periods and remain ready to respond to calls when needs arose. The security guards won a $90 million victory in the trial court on summary judgment – based on the employer’s admission that it did not relieve guards of all duties during rest periods - but the Court of Appeal reversed. In doing so, the appellate court concluded that state law does not require off-duty rest periods, and furthermore, that “being on call” is not performing work.
Augustus follows a 2012 decision of the state’s high court, Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court, which concluded that employees must be relieved of all duties during statutorily required 30-minute meal periods. Now, Augustus confirms that employers must treat meal and rest periods the same way.
In an opinion written by Justice Cuéllar and joined by four Justices, the Court used the dictionary definitions of “rest” – the “cessation of work, exertion, or activity” or “freedom from activity and labor” – as an indication of the legislative intent behind the rest-period requirement. Justice Cuéllar traced the history of the provision, from an Industrial Wage Commission wage order in the 1930s to California Labor Code § 226.7, enacted in 2000. The Court noted indications that the Legislature had intended for meal and rest periods to be treated the same, and further that specific provisions which authorize on-duty rest periods (such as one involving caregivers at 24-hour residential care facilities) would make no sense if any employee can be required to be on duty during a rest period. The Court also looked to guidance from the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement which had determined that rest periods must be duty-free.
The majority also took care to assuage concerns that off-duty rest periods would be too onerous for employers, noting that an employer can call an employee back to work mid-break if there is an urgent need, so long as the employee gets an additional rest break within the prescribed timeframe or the employer pays the employee a premium for the missed break.
In a concurring and dissenting opinion, Justice Kruger agreed that rest periods must be off-duty, but quibbled with the premise that being “on call” is work. She would have remanded the case to the trial court for further consideration of whether this particular on-call policy unreasonably interfered with the security guards rest breaks.
Rather than let this determination devolve into a fact-bound, mushy standard as to what kinds of on-call policies unreasonably interfere with a 10-minute rest break, the Court created a bright-line rule. The Court acknowledged that, as a practical matter, a 10-minute break is exceedingly short and that any interference by the employer is likely to compromise the employee’s ability to briefly rest. The Court further noted that many employees may need to use those ten minutes to take care of personal matters, such as pumping breast milk or making a phone call to arrange child care. In short, the Court has put employers in California on notice that rest means rest, making it much easier for employees to challenge employer policies that fail to conform to the law.
If you believe that your employer has failed to provide you with off-duty rest periods as required by California law, please contact Bryan Schwartz Law.