On January 29, 2015, a California appellate court modified and published its earlier opinion holding that ten minute rest breaks are not invalidated by the mere possibility the employee(s) may be asked to perform work. While actual work is prohibited during rest breaks, simply remaining available to work is not. The case is Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc.
ABM Security Services employs thousands of security guards throughout California. The company’s rest break policy requires security guards to keep their radios and pagers on during rest breaks and to respond to emergency and non-emergency situations should the need arise.
Three security guards filed putative class actions against ABM in which they argued the requirement to stay in contact and to respond to requests for assistance rendered the rest breaks indistinguishable from normal security work, and therefore invalid as a matter of law. The trial court certified the class. The plaintiffs then moved for summary adjudication, offering no evidence that any rest periods had ever been interrupted, but arguing the requirement to remain on call during rest breaks rendered them invalid. The trial court granted the motion, finding the requirement to remain on call during rest breaks meant the security guards were not truly on break, regardless of whether they were actually interrupted and required to perform work. The court awarded $90 million in damages, penalties and interest to the security guards, plus over $31 million in attorneys’ fees.
The appellate court examined Wage Order No. 4 and Labor Code section 226.7 in an effort to determine “the nature of a rest period.” The court found no useful guidance in the wage order, but noted that section 226.7 merely prohibits requiring an employee “to work” during a rest break. The court framed the issue as “whether simply being on-call constitutes performing ‘work.’ We conclude it does not.”
The court rejected the guards’ argument that on-call time necessarily constitutes work because it is indistinguishable from the rest of a guard’s work day, given that guards are always on call. The court explained: “[S]ection 226.7 does not require that a rest period be distinguishable from the remainder of the workday, it requires only that an employee not be required ‘to work’ during breaks. Even if an employee did nothing but remain on call all day, being equally idle on a rest break does not constitute working.”
The court also rejected the guards’ reliance on case law holding that employees must be relieved of all duty during meal breaks, noting the wage order includes language specifically requiring an employer to relieve an employee of all duty during a meal break, but contains no such requirement with respect to rest breaks. The court concluded: “In sum, although on-call hours constitute ‘hours worked,’ remaining available to work is not the same as performing work. . . . Section 226.7 proscribes only work on a rest break.”
This decision clarifies important distinctions between meal break and rest break requirements, and in the process provides guidance to employers on what they must do to comply.