Workers in Los Angeles and throughout the entire state of California must be allowed to take lunch or rest breaks as mandated by state and federal labor and employment laws. According to one judge's recent ruling, a rest or lunch break is not considered an official break unless an employee is allowed to be free of all work duties while on break.
This ruling stems from a dispute that has been going on for seven years in California involving 15,000 security guards who claim that their employee rights were violated after their employer forced them to remain on call while taking rest breaks. Although the ruling is certainly a victory for the security guards, their employer has stated that the company plans to appeal the decision.
The security guards' employer, ABM Security Services, claims that the judge misinterpreted California's labor laws regarding mandated breaks when ruling in favor of the security guards. According to California labor laws, most employees are entitled to take one 10-minute break for every four hours worked. ABM claims that its employees were allowed to take these breaks, but the company requested that its security guards keep their work radios, phones and pagers on during their breaks. The company maintains that this request did not violate its employees' rights.
However, the judge pointed out that this request meant that workers were still expected to carry out their work duties, even while they were on break. Without being relieved of all work duties, an employee is not truly on break, the judge stated. The judge also pointed out that some employers can be granted exemptions from California's rest and break laws, but ABM failed to request such an exemption. As a result, the company failed to ensure proper and legal rest breaks for its employees, and the employees' rights were indeed violated in the workplace.
Source: NBC Southern California, "Security Guards in Class-Action Lawsuit Awarded $90M," Caroline Tan, July 11, 2012