Under California law, employees must receive a rest break for every four hours worked and employers may not require employees to work during their breaks.
But what about employees who are allowed to take breaks and do what they wish during that time but still have to respond to calls if necessary? In a recent case, security guards asked that question because they had to carry their radios during breaks in case they were suddenly needed.
Recent case: Jennifer was one of almost 15,000 security guards working in California for ABM Security Services. She became the lead plaintiff in a class-action suit against ABM. The guards alleged that they had to carry their radios during their 10-minute breaks and therefore weren’t completely relieved of their duties.
The trial court said the guards were right and were therefore entitled to statutory penalties and interest for the violations. When attorneys’ fees, penalties and interest were added up, the award totaled more than $100 million.
Naturally, ABM appealed, and now the decision has been overturned.
The Court of Appeal of California concluded that, absent any evidence that the guards ever were actually interrupted during their breaks, such a large award wasn’t appropriate.
Plus, the court concluded that being technically on-call was not the same as having to work during breaks. It said California law does not require employers to relieve their employees of all job duties during breaks. (Augustus v. ABM Security, No. B243788, Court of Appeal of California, 2015)
Final note: You may recall that last month we wrote about a big California Supreme Court decision that concluded security guard on-call time during overnight shifts might be compensable. In this case, the employees were already paid for the breaks, but claimed being on-call meant they had no breaks and thus deserved more money.