Most California employees are entitled to two 10 minute rest breaks when working an eight hour shift. One question that has not been addressed is whether workers who are taking a rest break may be “on call” to respond to the occasional situation that requires their attention. The California Supreme Court has answered this question with a very clear “no”. The court emphatically held that an employee must be relieved of all work duties during a rest break and cannot be required to be ready to respond to their employer’s needs during a break.
The Court’s decision, in Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., No. S224853, involved security guards who were “on call” during their rest breaks and required to respond to emergency situations that might arise. The court of appeal had concluded that this was permissible as the guards seldom had to respond to an emergency and were generally free of work duties. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated a $90 million judgement against AMB. It concluded that a rest period required that an employee be relieved of all work responsibilities and not required to be ready to respond if needed by their employer. The Court noted that an employee may have to return to duty if unusual circumstances were to arise but should be given another rest break or paid compensation.
The opinion has significance for California self storage operators because it mandates that site personnel be given required rest breaks and that the rest break must be an unconditional relief from work duties. Self storage site personnel have control over their workday and can be given discretion as to when they take their breaks. It is important for employers to make sure that company policy is clear that site personnel are free from any work responsibility when they take the required rest break.
If circumstances arise where the employer determines that an employee must miss a rest break, the employee must be paid one additional hour of compensation at the regular pay rate. The additional pay must be included in the employee’s next paycheck. California has the nation’s strictest rest break standards and most other states that require rest breaks take a less restrictive approach.