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New California Ruling on Work Break Policies Will Affect Employers Statewide

New California Supreme Court Case Modifies
Rest Break Rules for California Employers

*** Updated as of February 1, 2017

The California Supreme Court has handed down a ruling on the issue of work break policies that will affect employers statewide.

Effective immediately, the Court has ruled that permitting employees to be “on call” or “on standby,” “available,” or anything else (other than being completely duty-free) is a violation of rest break policies. The Court has reiterated that employees on rest breaks must be totally duty-free, meaning, they are not to be bothered during their breaks and free of all work duties and responsibilities.

All businesses with employees should adjust their practices, Employee Handbook/Manuals or other policies to ensure ongoing compliance with California labor laws.

Background of the Court Case

The case before the California Supreme Court issue involved whether employers must provide totally duty-free rest periods for employees, or whether a company is permitted to have employees remain on call during their rest breaks. The lawsuit was brought as a class action against the security services company, ABM Security Services.  The case went to the California Supreme Court, and was decided on December 22, 2016.

According to the California Supreme Court, it is unlawful for an employer to exert any degree of control over the employee during rest breaks. If a employee is on a break from work, the employer must relinquish all control over how that break is spent. The employee is not permitted to be ready to be summoned into action at any time, i.e., on call, and if an employer has this expectation of employees, nullifies the rest break. In California, a failure to provide a rest break according to the requirements of the law, entitles an employee to next hour pay per day the rest break is missed. Multiplied over the days in the work week, pay periods, and all employees companywide, and also when considering the stiff penalties, attorneys fees, and interest for violations of California’s labor laws, a company’s liability for not giving employees proper rest breaks can become enormous.  For ABM Security, the Court’s ruling required the payment of $90 million in damages, interest, and penalties.

The one silver lining in the new decision was the court’s commentary that employers can reasonably reschedule a rest period if the need arises, but that this should be the exception rather than the rule. Further, if a rest period is interrupted, an employer can provide another rest period by replacing the interrupted one, or pay an extra hour of wages for the missed rest break.

The new decision should cause all California employers to re-examine their rest break policies and practices.

Action Guide: What Your Business Must Do

Below is a checklist to remain compliant with the new rule:

  • Does your business give all non-exempt employees rest breaks in the correct duration and as often as required by California labor laws?
  • Are the breaks provided to employees totally duty-free?
  • Has anyone who supervises an affected employee been notified and/or trained so they are aware of what they must do or not do?
  • Does your business’s employee manual / handbook / policies and procedures accurately reflect the correct rest break rules?
  • Don’t have a policy? Download the Rest Break 2017 Update

Top Downloads/Resources

Check out our complete line of handy forms and templates for California small businesses.

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Getting Legal Help

AXIS Legal Counsel’s provides legal advice to numerous businesses throughout California with a variety of legal matters, including employment, employee relationships, labor law, and wage/hour matters, as well as compliance with California’s numerous employment and labor laws. We have assisted clients develop employment policies, become compliant with California’s wage and hour laws, prepare employee handbooks, management agreements, employment agreements, independent contractor agreements, and numerous similar labor law and employment legal matters. We have also represented clients in litigation matters involving employee and independent contractor disputes, mediations, lawsuits, and arbitrations. For information on retaining AXIS Legal Counsel to represent your business in connection with any legal matter, contact [email protected] or call (213) 403-0130 for a confidential consultation.


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