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California Supreme Court Issues Ruling on Duty-Free Rest Breaks for Non-Exempt Employees

California Employees Entitled to Duty-Free Rest Breaks

Photo Credit: silaaa Flickr via Compfight cc

According to a recent decision by the California Supreme Court in the case of Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., California employees are entitled to breaks during their work day that must be duty-free, meaning that an employee cannot be required to perform any work-related job functions during his or her break time, including being on-call.

Failure to allow employees to have completely duty-free breaks can result in severe financial liability for the employer. Employers are required to pay employees up to one full hour's worth of regular rate pay for any legally mandated breaks taken by employees that were not completely duty-free.

About the Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against AMB Security

AMB Security employs several security guards across California. While each security guard's job duties may vary based on where he or she is assigned to work, AMB Security guards typically provide security services and assistance, and observe and report any unusual or suspicious activity. AMB Security had a policy that its security guards were to remain on-call during work shifts - including while they were on breaks. AMB Security guards were required to remain vigilant, keep their radios and pagers on, and respond to situations as needed. While most security guards ultimately took breaks that were interruption-free, they were still required to be on call in case something were to happen during their break time.

Jennifer Augustus filed a class action lawsuit against AMB Security on behalf of all security guards who were employed by AMB Security and required to abide by the on-call policy. The suit alleges that a rest period that is subject to work duties is indistinguishable from the rest of the security guard's work day, and is thus not a break from work at all. The court held that California employment law protects employees by granting them duty-free rest breaks from their work.

California Employees Are Entitled to Duty-Free Breaks During Work

California employees are entitled to breaks during their workday. Specifically, workers are entitled to 10-minute rest breaks in addition to meal breaks. A 10-minute rest break should be granted to employees for every four hours they work. Additionally, these 10-minute rest breaks must be duty-free, meaning that the employee must not be required to engage in any work-related activity for the rest break period.

What Happens if a California Employee is Denied Breaks at Work?

Employees that are denied their legally-mandated breaks may have a cause of action against their employers. California workers that are denied their breaks are eligible for compensation for the time that they were not permitted by their employer to have a break. Employers should identify instances where employees were denied breaks on their own and compensate employees accordingly. However, if an employee is unfairly denied a duty-free break time without proper compensation, the employee can file a wage claim with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

If you are a California employee who has been denied your legally-mandated duty-free break time at work, contact our passionate and experienced California employment attorneys at Hennig Ruiz for a free consultation today.

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