Under both California Labor Code section 226.7 and the Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) Wage Order No. 4-2001, employers are required to provide employees with a rest period of at least 10 minutes for every four hours of work or major faction thereof.
The question employers often ask is: may employers require employees to be on-call during rest periods, regardless of whether these employees actually work during that time? In Augustus, et al. v. ABM Security Services, Inc., 2016 WL 7407328 (2016), the California Supreme Court set out to clarify the matter.
Plaintiffs worked as security guards for ABM Security Services (ABM). ABM required guards to keep their pagers and radio phones on—even during rest periods—and to remain vigilant and responsive to calls when needs arose. In filing their complaint, Plaintiffs alleged that ABM consistently failed to provide them with uninterrupted rest periods, as required under the law.
In response, ABM admitted that it did not relieve the guards of all duty during rest periods because they needed to remain vigilant. However, ABM argued that the guards were only required to remain on-call, i.e., to keep their pagers and radio phones on, in case of emergencies. In fact, the employees regularly took uninterrupted breaks, according to ABM.
Ruling in favor of the employees, the Supreme Court cited Wage Order No. 4-2001, which provides that employers are required to give rest periods and must count them as hours worked. In interpreting the term “rest,” the court clarified that it should be understood to mean “an interval of time free from labor, work, or any other employment-related activities.” Moreover, considering that rest periods are only 10 minutes, limiting employees’ movements or imposing certain duties on them would virtually prevent the employees from using the rest periods for their own purposes.
As pointed out by the court, employers are not altogether banned from requiring employees to be on-call during rest periods. Employers may simply a) provide another rest period to replace the one that was interrupted; or b) pay a break premium, which is one hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation.
In conclusion, California law requires employers to relieve employees of all work-related duties and employer control during 10-minute rest periods. This means allowing employees to leave the work premises and not requiring them to be on-call, whether or not employees actually render any work during this time.
Read the full text of the case here.