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“During required rest periods, employers must relieve their employees of all duties and relinquish any control over how employees spend their break time.” So ruled the California Supreme Court last month in JENNIFER AUGUSTUS v. ABM SECURITY SERVICES, INC.

In the case, a security guard company required the guards to keep their phones and communication devices in the “ON” position and to “remain vigilant” during breaks.

In deciding the case, the court was reviewing an Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) wage order, Order No. 4-2001 (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11040 (Wage Order 4)). Wage orders are an important source of regulation for employers in California. Employers should take a moment to review the rules applicable to their industry. The court ruled once again in this case that these orders are an important source of law for California.

Order No. 4 states: "Every employer shall authorize and permit all employees to take rest periods . . . . Authorized rest period time shall be counted, as hours worked for which there shall be no deduction from wages.”

In case this is the word "rest" is vague to readers, the Supreme Court even defined what is meant by "rest": "The ordinary meaning of rest conveys, in this context, the opposite of work. Rest is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as the [c]essation of work, exertion, or activity."

If you believe that employees in your business can't take a real break, make sure to get legal advice. This security company thought they had a good reason to keep their guards on guard. But it cost them $90 million in a class action to be proven wrong

the simple rule is that employers shouldn't require work during breaks.

Matt Kinley is a business lawyer in Long Beach, CA.

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