California Supreme Court Impacts On-Duty and On-Call Rest Periods for California Employees

In 2016, California’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff in the case of Jennifer Augustus v. ABM Security Services Inc. This case involved an employer that required security guards to keep their pagers and radios on during breaks. This requirement allegedly ensured that security personnel were able to respond to emergencies at all times.

However, California law requires employers to offer rest periods for employees who work a certain number of hours. During these rest periods, employees should not be required or expected to perform any work duties. This law meant that employers couldn’t have policies that put employees at risk of losing their jobs or being disciplined for not being on call during an official rest period.

Before reaching California’s Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals determined California law does not always require off-duty rest periods. It also determined that being on call is not the same as performing one’s work duties. Accordingly, the court determined that an employee can take a break while being expected to respond if they are contacted by a supervisor.

Initially, California’s Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision. The Supreme Court determined that, under California law, “a rest period . . . must be a period of rest.” This meant employers could not require employees to be on call during breaks. The decision represented an important step forward in regard to workers’ rights in California.

Assembly Bill Number 1512

Unfortunately, recent developments have undone some of the progress that was made. Assembly Bill Number 1512 was made law in 2020. It classifies security work as being inherently different from other types of employment. 

Specifically, it states that security personnel must be able to respond to emergencies in a timely manner. Thus, it is permissible for employers to require that security personnel remain on call even during breaks.

California Labor Laws and Taking Breaks: What You Need to Know

The California Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Jennifer Augustus v. ABM Security Services Inc. has significant implications for most workers in the state. If you are taking a break, odds are, your employer cannot require you to be available in any manner. This includes responding to calls, texts, etc.

That said, recent changes to California’s labor laws now differentiate those who work in security from those who work in other capacities. If you are part of a company’s security personnel, your employer can legally require you to be on call while taking a break.

It remains unclear whether this modification of previous laws will be challenged. However, while this new legal development may not be ideal for security personnel, it does include provisions that employees in such roles should be aware of.

Specifically, the law allows security officers to restart their rest periods if they are interrupted. Any subsequent rest period must generally meet the rest period requirements for employees under California law. The law also states that security officers must receive payment equal to one hour of their regular pay if they are not permitted to take a 10-minute rest break every four hours.

Again, this is not a perfect scenario for employees who work in security. It might be preferable for employers to hire additional security personnel to ensure all security officers can take legal breaks without being on call. That said, it is nevertheless critical that security officers be familiar with the details of this amendment. Even if they must be on call during breaks, there are potential scenarios that may give them reason to take legal action.

For example, a security officer may not be coerced by an employer to perform work duties that extend beyond being on-call to respond to emergencies during breaks. Moreover, an employer must compensate you for your hours worked.

If you suspect your employer has violated the law in some capacity, review your case with a California employment law attorney. They can help you determine whether you have grounds to take further action.