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.