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Should you be 'on call' during your lunch break?

Having employees ready at a moment’s notice, otherwise known as being “on call” has become a benefit for some California employers and employees alike. The employer benefits because much needed labor can be summoned to respond to time sensitive matters, and employees appreciate the flexibility that comes with such a schedule.

But when employees are on call, are they entitled to regular rest periods allowed to hourly employees? This was the question posed to the California Supreme Court in Augustus v. ABM Services, Inc. The case involved security guards who were required to be ready to respond to calls while “on call.”

While being on call is a normal expectation in some circumstances, the security guards in the present case were not given the periodic breaks allowed by California law. The guards brought suit against ABM, alleging that the company failed to provide consistent, uninterrupted breaks to guards who were on call. 

The court found that employees may not be “on call” during scheduled rest periods even though they may be summoned while otherwise on duty. Essentially, an employer must relinquish all control over the employee during such breaks. The ruling adhered to Wage Order 4, subdivision 12, which authorizes and permits all employees to take rest periods.

As such, the court reasoned that lunch breaks were a regular and necessary part of the work day, and that being on call should not infringe upon them.

If you are being required to work or otherwise be available during authorized work breaks, an experienced employment law attorney can advise you.

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