Key California Supreme Court Ruling Defines Rest Breaks

California employers should carefully review their policies and practices in the wake of a recent decision related to rest breaks for hourly workers.  On December 22, 2016, the California Supreme Court ruled that California law requires employees on rest breaks be relieved of all duties.

Augustus v. ABM Security

In the case of Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc., security guards filed a class action complaint in 2005 alleging their employer did not provide uninterrupted rest periods as was required by California law.  ABM had a practice of requiring guards on duty to keep their pagers (some of us will remember pagers – note this initial action was from 2005) or radios on even during rest periods. Guards were required to respond, if needed, for work duties such as assisting tenants, alerting building management of facilities issues, and other urgent matters even if the guards were on a break.  The judge in the  2005 complaint ruled that the company’s practice violated California law.

The Court of Appeal reversed that decision in December 2014, ruling that being “on-call” did not violate state laws governing rest breaks because workers were permitted to pursue and engage in non-work activities such as reading, browsing the internet, or conducting personal business.  The Court ruled that the freedom to pursue these activities did not constitute “performing work”.

On appeal, the California Supreme Court in 2016 reversed the ruling in a 5 -2 decision. The court decided that the employer’s requirement to be in contact, remain vigilant, and respond as needs arose failed to meet the employer’s obligation to provide duty-free rest breaks.  In its ruling, the court noted: “California law requires employers to relieve their employees of all work-related duties and employer control during 10-minute rest periods.”

The court noted that the company’s policy requiring guards to carry a pager, radio or other communication device by which the employee could be summoned to perform work did not free them from duty during rest periods.

California Break Law

There are specific wage orders that apply by industry in California.  Generally, non-exempt workers who work more than 3 ½ hours per day must be permitted to take a paid 10-minute rest break.  For employees working a regular schedule, a rest break must be provided (on the clock) every four (4) hours of work or major fraction thereof.  During a rest break, the employee must not be required to work (relieved of all duties). Rest breaks have some flexibility if the employee is permitted to leave the work station at his or her discretion (ie., walking over to get water or coffee throughout the day).

The paid rest break requirement is in addition to the 30-minute unpaid meal break required after five (5) hours of work.  A meal break may be waived by mutual agreement between the employer and the employee, but only if the work day is completed in less than six (6) hours. Other requirements may apply to employees covered by labor contracts.


Employers in California must ensure they are meeting the obligation to provide rest breaks that are completely duty-free. Class action wage and hour claims represent significant risk, particularly for employers with a large hourly workforce. This case should constitute  a wake- up call to review polices and train managers.

Amy Kelemen, SPHR – Director of Professional Services, Senior HR Consultant

Disclaimer: Some information contained herein has been abridged from numerous sources and may be protected by various copyright laws. Such information should not be construed as consulting or legal advice. Please contact our office for specific advice and/or referrals.

Bay Area Human Resources Services

Office Not Included

New research finds working from home is no longer a fringe benefit for a handful of employees. Telecommuting has become commonplace in today’s technology-laden work environment, according to a recent Gallup study. Specifically, the number of employees who are, or have at one point in their career, worked at least one day a month from home has grown by more than 300 percent in the past 20 years. In 2015, 37 percent of employees said they had worked remotely at one point in their career, compared to 30 percent in 2006 and just 9 percent in 1995.

The study found that technology has made telecommuting easier for workers, and most companies seem willing to let workers work remotely, at least on an occasional basis if the position allows for it.  A majority (74%) of the survey respondents indicated that they thought the productivity of telecommuters was as good (if not better) than their office-bound colleagues.

In addition to increased work/life balance, telecommuting can bring real bottom-line benefits to employers and their employees.  According to a 2016 Global Workplace Analytics study, if those with compatible jobs, and a desire to work from home did so, just half the time, the national savings would total over $700 Billion a year:

    • A typical business would save $11,000 per person per year
    • The telecommuters would personally save between $2,000 and $7,000 a year
    • The greenhouse gas reduction would be the equivalent of taking the entire New York State workforce permanently off the road.

Yet, establishing the culture and policies to make telecommuting successful is still far from universal.  How do you build a successful remote team?  The Study concludes that there are three core tenets of successfully operating remotely: communication, trust, and culture.


Communication is hands-down the most important aspect to focus on. Every workplace study reviewed indicates superior communication alleviates many potential issues. Without consistent communication, most remote teams will fall apart. Clear goals and objectives must be defined so each member understands his or her responsibilities and deadlines, and everyone needs to be regularly checking in with each other.

A remote team needs clear-cut rules on how communication will happen. Define regular days and time slots for meetings, and specify how technology – like email and Skype — will be used. This will prevent confusion and will keep everyone equipped with the information they need to do their jobs. Also consider monthly or quarterly virtual town hall meetings in which all employees can participate.


The absence of trust will crush a remote team. Employees must rely on one other, and the profile of an effective remote worker is one who is team oriented and will do his or her part to achieve the group goals.  Remote workers must be already trained and display a work profile of a self-driven work style as no one will be checking in every hour to see if they’re productive.

As Alex Turnbull wrote on the blog Groove, “A great startup employee doesn’t necessarily make a great remote startup employee.” You won’t be able to look over your employees’ shoulders, so you need to ensure they’re capable of self-management.

Company Culture

It has been said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. All companies need a well-defined culture and it is critical to support remote teams and telecommuters. In fact, culture is more helpful for a remote team than it is for an office-based one. Because your workers can be spread across different cities, states, or countries, you’ll have to go the extra mile to unify your team and establish a group ethos.  In the opinion of the founder of Zapier, Wade Foster, “Culture is about how you work.” He contends workers should be motivated to work because they find the work rewarding. Part of what it means to have a great culture is that everyone feels part of the progress.  Maintaining that culture connection for remote workers is the difference between success and a train wreck.


Working with a remote team presents unique challenges and it takes more than a weekly Skype call to make it work effectively. With the continued explosion of small and more powerful technology, remote working is clearly a big part of work today and into the future. If the traditional office is truly becoming optional – for at least part of your workforce- it is time to plan on how to leverage it rather than to fight it.

Malcolm Whyte, SPHR – Vice President of HR Services

Disclaimer: Some information contained herein has been abridged from numerous sources and may be protected by various copyright laws. Such information should not be construed as consulting or legal advice. Please contact our office for specific advice and/or referrals.

Bay Area Human Resources Services