WHILE MEAL BREAK MEANS MEAL, DOES REST BREAK MEAN REST?

California’s long-time ambiguity surrounding workers rights on meal and rest breaks.

It should be crystal clear…if you are on a meal or rest break, you don’t have to work.

Right?

Well.

It seems that here in California, with so many hard working employees, there is still some ambiguity regarding what an employer can or cannot require an employee to do during meal and rest breaks.

DID A 2014 CA SUPREME COURT DECISION MAKE IT BETTER OR WORSE?

– If you are on a meal break, and your boss needs you, are you obligated to respond?

– Are you obligated to work?

– Can your employer legally pull you off of a required rest break to work?

In 2014, the California Supreme Court decided that “Employers Must Relieve Employees of All Duty During Meal Periods But Need Not Ensure They Perform No Work.” In this decision, the Court noted that California employees must be “relieved of all duties” during their statutorily required 30-minute meal periods.

The specific questions came from a case called Brinker Restaurant Corporation v. Superior Court. The Brinker case was, at the time, one of many employment law based class action lawsuits pending in California. It centered on employees making the claim that the Brinker Restaurant Corporation had failed to provide the number of, and timing of, both meal breaks and rest periods as required by California state law.

HOWEVER, THE QUESTION REMAINED: DOES AN EMPLOYEE HAVE TO BE AVAILABLE TO WORK WHILE THEY ARE ON A BREAK?

In an effort to resolve ambiguity that arose from this case, and multiple others, the California Supreme Court further concluded that while an employer is required to dismiss an employee of all job responsibilities during a meal period (meal break), the employer does not have to guarantee that no work is done.

Thankfully, it seems that a 2016 decision by the same California Supreme Court MAY have clarified the, “Are employees on-call during a rest break” question…

On December 22, 2016, the California Supreme Court handed down an opinion in the Augustus v. ABM Industries case. Their decision, once and for all, answered this question:

“California law requires employers to relieve their employees of all work-related duties and employer control during 10-minute rest periods. The trial court’s summary adjudication and summary judgment orders were premised on this understanding of the law. Rightly so: Wage Order 4, subdivision 12(A) and section 226.7 prohibit on-duty rest periods. What they require instead is that employers relinquish any control over how employees spend their break time, and relieve their employees of all duties –– including the obligation that an employee remain on call. A rest period, in short, must be a period of rest. We accordingly reverse the Court of Appeal’s judgment on this issue.”

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR EMPLOYEES?

It means that all California employees continue to have rights. And most importantly, that all California employees have the right to ask questions about their rights.

QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR RIGHTS?

Employee advocates are standing by.