Employers in California should review their workplace rest period policies and practices because of this new law.

On December 22, 2016, the California Supreme Court ruled that “on-call” rest breaks are illegal. This ruling stems from security guards from ABM Security Services, Inc., which employs security guards at residential, retail, office, and industrial sites throughout California. They sued the company for violating state law during their legally mandated rest breaks.

ABM security guards were asked to remain “on-call” during their rest breaks by requiring to carry pagers and radio phones with them and were asked by ABM to respond to calls when they were needed in case of emergency or need for service.

Because of this implication, the California Court of Appeal reversed the trial court saying that “simply being on call,” doesn’t actually involve working. And, because rest periods with ABM are only 10 minutes long, employee’s really can’t wander very far from their post. The California Court of Appeal stated, “one would expect that employees will ordinarily have to remain onsite or nearby.”

With the ease of having employees at their fingertips, it makes sense that ABM would have such a practice in place. Although is can be helpful to have back-up during an emergency, it shouldn’t be during an employee’s legally mandated rest break. Ultimately, the California Supreme Court ruled that because the security guards were always under ABM’s control and obligated to perform work, they never received a true rest break.

The trial court awarded the security guards $90 million–quite a hefty penny–in statutory damages, interest, and penalties, including a one-hour rest break premium for each day a guard worked.

So what does this mean for employers?

All employers, regardless if they provide security services, must provide off-duty rest breaks for its employees. This can change how some California employers, who have employed on-duty or on-call rest breaks, conduct their normal business operations. The healthcare industry could be heavily affected, as well as hospitality, retail, and security.

All employees must not only be relieved of work duties, but also be freed from employer control over how they spend their time. Employers cannot compel employees “to remain at the ready, tethered by time and policy to particular locations or communication devices.”

Employers should take time to review their workplace rest period policies and practices. If anything appears to impose work duties during break periods, these policies and practices should be removed or rewritten immediately.

Stephen Koppekin Consulting provides cost-effective and efficient consulting solutions in the areas of labor and employment.  With his expert ability to negotiate and his solution-based mindset, Stephen Koppekin shares his vast knowledge on his consulting website.