On-Call Rest Periods Not Permitted in California

California’s Wage Orders provide as follows:

Every employer shall authorize and permit all employees to take rest periods, which insofar as practicable shall be in the middle of each work period. The authorized rest period time shall be based on the total hours worked daily at the rate of ten (10) minutes net rest time per four (4) hours or major fraction thereof. However, a rest period need not be authorized for employees whose total daily work time is less than three and one-half (31/2) hours. Authorized rest period time shall be counted as hours worked for which there shall be no deduction from wages.

The Wage Orders require employers to pay the employee for one (1) hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation for each workday that the rest period is not provided and for an additional hour of pay at the employee’s regular rate of compensation for each workday that a meal period is not provided.  See also California Labor Code Section 226.7.

In a recent case addressing an employer’s obligation to relieve its employees of all duties during a rest period, the California Supreme Court held that “employers must relieve their employees of all duties and relinquish any control over how employees spend their break time.”  Augustus v. ABM Sec. Servs., Inc. (Mar. 15, 2017) 2 Cal.5th 257, 260.  The Court clarified that an employers’ obligation to relieve an employee of all duties applied not only to meal periods, but also to rest periods.  Id. at 265. 

Augustus is a significant win for workers because some companies were claiming that they were meeting their obligation to provide rest periods by providing “on-call” breaks.  In other words, during their breaks, the workers had to remain at the ready, and capable of being summoned to action.  Specifically, the workers had to carry some kind of device by which the employer could reach them, respond when the employer contacted them, and perform work if the employer requested it.  Some courts were buying this argument.  See, e.g., Bartoni v. American Medical Response West (A143784, May 24, 2017).

In Augustus, the California Supreme Court found that on-call rest breaks were not permissible.  Such breaks cannot be reconciled with the concept that employees must be free to do what they please during their breaks.  Accordingly, employers must relinquish any control over how employees spend their break time.  If they do not, they must pay employees one hour of pay for each day that a proper rest period is not provided.

The attorneys at Hunter Pyle Law have handled many individual and class cases regarding meal and rest breaks.  If you have questions about your situation at work, please feel free to call us at (510) 444-4400 or email us at inquire@hunterpylelaw.com for a free, confidential initial intake.