Labor Law -- 2016



Augustus v. ABM Sec. Serv., Inc.   (California Supreme Court)

Prohibiting on-call rest periods

Unfortunately, the California Supreme Court has denied the petition for rehearing by defendant ABM Security Services. The Supreme Court modified its opinion only to clarify that the matter is remanded to the Court of Appeal for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court's opinion. The effect of this modification is to allow the Court of Appeal to address alternative grounds that ABM had raised in the Court of Appeal for reversal of the judgment but that the Court of Appeal had not needed to reach. The Supreme Court did not change any of its analysis regarding on-duty and on-call rest periods. A link to the Supreme Court docket is here. California law requires the vast majority of California employers to authorize and permit paid rest periods every workday. Businesses that do not comply can face crushing financial liability, as exemplified by the nearly $90 million awarded to plaintiffs in this case where a security services employer required employees to remain on-call during rest breaks in case of an emergency.

The trial court concluded that every on-call rest break policy in California is unlawful. Upholding such a ruling would force employers to ensure that their employees’ rest breaks could never be interrupted, even in emergencies. The Court of Appeal correctly held that requiring employees to remain on-call during rest breaks does not violate prohibitions on performing “work” during rest breaks. The term “work,” by its plain meaning, requires physical or mental exertion on an employer’s behalf and on-call status does not entail such exertion. The California Supreme Court now has the opportunity to clarify whether on-call rest periods are permitted.

The NAM filed an amicus brief urging the California Supreme Court to uphold the Court of Appeal and explaining that the interpretation of the law governing rest breaks could have broad implications. Whether the employee is a security guard, a nurse, a medical technician, a power plant mechanic, or a control room operator, the skills of particular employees may be needed at a moment’s notice to prevent serious injury to life and property. As a matter of public policy, such employees should be permitted to remain available to respond in an emergency, rather than having their responsiveness limited by on-call rest break prohibitions.

On 12/22/16, the Court ruled that "state law prohibits on-duty and on-call rest periods. During required rest periods, employers must relieve their employees of all duties and relinquish any control over how employees spend their break time." This is a loss for manufacturers who need to summon workers who are on rest breaks to help with emergencies. It also ruled that a Wage Order for guards and other professional, clerical, technical or similar occupations requires employers to provide 10-minutes off-duty rest periods every 4 hours. Companies that fail to provide these rest periods must pay an additional hour of wages for each missed rest period to the affected employees.

The NAM filed an amicus letter with the court on Jan. 12, 2017, seeking clarification of the court's decision, and a ruling that it applies prospectively only. Unfortunately, the California Supreme Court has denied the petition for rehearing by defendant ABM Security Services. The Supreme Court modified its opinion only to clarify that the matter is remanded to the Court of Appeal for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court's opinion. The effect of this modification is to allow the Court of Appeal to address alternative grounds that ABM had raised in the Court of Appeal for reversal of the judgment but that the Court of Appeal had not needed to reach. The Supreme Court did not change any of its analysis regarding on-duty and on-call rest periods.


Related Documents:
NAM amicus letter supporting reconsideration  (January 12, 2017)
NAM amicus brief  (November 23, 2015)

 


© 2019 National Association of Manufacturers