Executive Summary: On January 29, 2015, a California appeals court published a modified version of an opinion examining, in part, an employer's obligation under the state's rest break requirements.  Critically, the opinion concludes that the rest break requirement only prescribes that an employee not be required to work on a rest break, not that he or she be relieved of all duties.  The opinion provides much needed guidance to employers in understanding the distinction between California's meal and rest break requirements.

On January 29, 2015, the Second District for the California Court of Appeal published a modified version of its decision in Augustus v. ABM Security Services, Inc.  The decision establishes critical precedent regarding an employer's obligations under California's rest break law.

In the appeal, a security company sought review of a lower court's decisions on summary judgment and class certification that ultimately resulted in a $90 million judgment against the company for violating the state's rest break requirement by requiring its security guards to keep their radio and pagers on during rest breaks and remain ready to respond, even though they were not required to work during these times.  While the appellate court affirmed the lower court's decision on class certification, it reversed its decision on summary judgment, concluding that the trial court had rendered its decision under a faulty premise – that an employer was required under California law to relieve its workers of all duty during rest breaks. 

In so reasoning, the appellate court drew a sharp distinction between the text of the law pertaining to California's meal break requirement and that relating to rest breaks.  In analyzing the relevant text, the appellate court noted that although the meal break requirement specifically requires that an employee be "relieved of all duty," no such language is found the rest break requirement.  In its order modifying the opinion, the appellate court went on to clarify that the state's definition of "hours worked"—which defines work as both concerning the time during which an employee is subject to the employer's control, and the time during which an employee is exerting him- or herself on the employer's behalf—would not change its analysis because the rest break requirement only concerns prohibiting the latter.  In other words, the requirement "prohibits only working during a rest break, not remaining available to work."

Employers may now breathe a sigh of relief as the opinion provides much needed guidance for employers regarding their obligations under California's meal and rest break requirements.  Prior decisions from California courts and the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement had made it unclear whether an employer could exert some control over its workers during rest breaks, as well as whether there were any qualitative differences between meal breaks and rest breaks.  For example, employers had struggled with whether they could require workers to remain on the premises for rest breaks—which is not permitted with respect to meal breaks.