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Rest Breaks Upheld By CA High Court

The California Supreme Court ruled that almost all employees who are subject to the state’s rest periods regulations cannot be required to participate in on-call or on-duty rest periods.

Or, as the court put it: “A rest period, in short, must be a period of rest.”

In spite of the fact that no law in California mandates rest breaks, the state’s Industrial Welfare Commisison’s Wage Orders require employers to allow non-exempt employees to take a net 10-consecutive-minute rest break for each four hour work period.

The case the court decided involved a security firm that had required its guards to keep their pagers and radio phones on – including during their rest breaks – and to remain vigilant and be responsive to calls whenever the need arose.

The employer cited as examples of urgent and time-sensitive needs requiring guards to remain on-call such occasions as escorting building tenants to parking, informing a building manager about a mechanical problem, and responding to emergency situations whenever they arose.

However, the High Court found that there was nothing contained in the language of the commisison’s Wage Orders authorizing on-duty rest breaks. As a result, it said employee rest breaks must be taken completely off-duty.

The decision will have significant impact for thousands of California employers who have employed on-duty or on-call rest breaks as part of their business operations, notes attorney Philippe A. Lebel of the Drinker Biddle & Reath law firm.

“Employers who cannot relieve non-exempt employees of all duties during required rest breaks may need to pay rest break premiums if they cannot find a way to provide an alternative off-duty rest break,” he warns.

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