Being “On-Call” Does Not Consitute “Work”

The Second Appellate District published its decision in Augustus v. ABM Security Services, which overturned a trial court’s award of $90 million in statutory damages, interest, penalties, and attorney fees for a class of security guards who were allegedly denied rest breaks.  There has been much controversy over the extent to which employers must relieve employees of duty while on rest and meal breaks.  The court’s opinion does a fairly thorough analysis and is worth reading.  The following are some highlights from the case.

The trial court certified a class and granted plaintiffs’ motion for summary adjudication, concluding an employer must relieve its employees of all duties during rest breaks, including the obligation to remain on call. The trial court awarded approximately $90 million in statutory damages, interest, penalties, and attorney fees on the premise that California law requires employers to relieve their workers of all duty during rest breaks. The appellate court concluded the premise was false, and therefore reversed the order.

ABM employs thousands of security guards, some sites where only a single guard is stationed, while others dozens could be stationed.  ABM policies required security guards to remain on-call and to carry a radio or pager even when the employee was on his/her rest break.  Labor Code Section 226.7, and the applicable wage orders, require employers to “afford their nonexempt employees meal periods and rest periods during the workday.”  The plaintiffs alleged since they were required to remain on-call,they were not relieved of all duties and therefore they were not afforded required rest periods.

The appellate court compared the wage order’s rest period requirement and the language in Labor Code section 226.7, and concluded that while an employer cannot require an employee to perform work while on a rest period, being on-call (at least in this situation) did not require the employees to perform work.

[A]lthough ABM’s security guards were required to remain on call during their rest breaks, they were otherwise permitted to engage and did engage in various non- work activities, including smoking, reading, making personal telephone calls, attending to personal business, and surfing the Internet. The issue is whether simply being on-call constitutes performing “work.” We conclude it does not.

The guards had a variety of duties they would perform throughout the day, including greeting visitors, allowing egress and ingress to the premises, making rounds of the buildings, responding to emergencies, etc.  Although a guard could be called back to work to perform such tasks, “remaining available to work is not the same as actually working.”

The court also differentiated rest breaks from meal breaks under the wage order.  Subdivision 11(A), pertaining to meal periods requires that an employee be “relieved of all duty” during a meal period. Subdivision 12(A), regarding rest breaks, contains no similar requirement. The court found that if the IWC had wanted to relieve an employee of all duty during a rest period, including the duty to remain on call, it knew how to do so. Additionally, since the IWC’s order allows a paid on-duty meal period in some circumstances, “it would make no sense to permit a 30- minute paid, on duty meal break but not a 10-minute paid rest break.”

In an amended portion of the decision, the court looked at the meaning of the word, “work,” both as a noun and a verb:

The word “work” is used as both a noun and verb in Wage Order No. 4, which defines “Hours worked” as “the time during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer, and includes all the time the employee is suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so.” (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11040, subd. 2(K).) In this definition, “work” as a noun means “employment”—time during which an employee is subject to an employer’s control. “Work” as a verb means “exertion”—activities an employer may suffer or permit an employee to perform. (See Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Co. v. Muscoda Local No. 123 (1944) 321 U.S. 590, 598 [work is “physical or mental exertion (whether burdensome or not) controlled or required by the employer and pursued necessarily and primarily for the benefit of the employer and his business”].) Section 226.7, which as noted provides that “[a]n employer shall not require an employee to work during a meal or rest or recovery period,” uses “work” as an infinitive verb contraposed with “rest.” It is evident, therefore, that “work” in that section means exertion on an employer’s behalf.

I’m not a linguist, but I know we will see this language quoted in future cases.

In the end, the court concluded that “on-call status is a state of being, not an action. But section 226.7 prohibits only the action, not the status. In other words, it prohibits only working during a rest break, not remaining available to work.”

Augustus will be useful to occupations other than security guards since all of the wage orders contain identical language regarding rest breaks.  Any industry where the employee is required to remain on-call while on a rest break, and any employee that is required to remain on-call during rest breaks, should review Augustus.

The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego
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Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman, former associate of The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego.
 
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