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Workers not relieved of all duties while on rest breaks, says California Court of Appeal

In Augustus v. ABM Sec. Services, Inc., the Court ruled a security firm had indeed provided rest breaks for guards, despite the fact they were always on call. An important takeaway from the January 2015 decision is that while California law prohibits workers from working while on breaks, it does not prohibit employers from relieving workers’ from all duties during rest breaks. If a worker is on call during a rest break, they are still deemed as officially working and must be compensated.
California law says workers must have meal breaks and rest breaks. If they work more than four hours, they must have a 10-minute period during which they are not working on duty. Workers on duty for over five hours must have a half hour meal break during which they are relieved of all duties.
According to the case file, all guards at ABM Security Services were hired to provide security for the building to which they were assigned, deal with any safety or emergency situations, raise and lower flags, greet visitors, escort workers to their vehicles and control access to various buildings. All guards had defined breaks, but were required to keep their communication devices with them at all times and respond if they were needed.
The statement of claim alleged that ABM was in violation of California’s labor laws because workers had to keep communication devices with them continuously and respond if needed.

The Court pointed out that the Labor Code does not specifically mandate that a rest period look different from the workday. It only states that workers must not work during those breaks and that “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 decided that on-duty rest breaks were permissible because “remaining available to work is not the same as performing work.”

Labor laws are not always clearly written, and it is only through challenges to the Labor Code that the courts are able to further clarify what the intent of the Legislature had been in drafting the law.

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