Alert: Changes in Employee's Rest Break Requirements

Just in time for Christmas: Yesterday, California’s Supreme Court shifted the landscape for employee’s rest breaks. That case is Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc. (December 22, 2016) 2016 WL 7407328.

This is no small matter – in doing so, it reinstated a $90 million verdict against a security company. But more importantly, the case should cause every employer to review its rest break policy.

What the court says: It’s undisputed that an employer must provide its non-exempt employees with a 10 minute rest break for every four (4) hours of work. But the assumption was that during the break, you can still require an employee to be “on call,” stay at her desk to answer the phone, or keep a pager with her in case of an emergency.

Not anymore. The state’s highest court holds that rest breaks must be completely free of obligation. Does this sound fair?

Not if you’re a small company with a limited number of employees. A receptionist that you rely on may be the only one available to answer phones, and keeping your phones “silent” for one or two 10 minute periods, daily, may be a burden for your small business. Or, if you employ a security guard, there will be short periods of time where your grounds are unsecured - i.e. your security guard is on a state required break - unless you hire two security guards.

But at the same time, the basis for giving employees a work-free break is important. The case notes that these rest periods allow an employee to accomplish important personal tasks, like pump breast milk, arrange for child care, make a doctor’s appointment, or simply close one’s eyes and "rest."

The court did not directly address whether an employer can require an employee to remain on the premises during the break. But given this ruling, employers should seriously consider dumping this requirement. Otherwise, they risk opening themselves up to a lawsuit, where an employee may argue that he was “on call.” Simply requiring that an employee return to work in 10 minutes – and making sure that the employee is not available by phone, pager, etc. – will sufficiently comply with this latest ruling.

As always, contact us if you want more information. And unless there are any more important changes in the law, Happy Holidays.

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